Once upon a time, in my imagination, two precocious 5-year-olds decided to rewrite their favorite childhood fairy tales, as a musical, no less. Upon reaching adulthood, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine decided, “Oh, what the heck? Let’s go for it.” Enter “Into the Woods,” now playing in the completely refurbished comforts of MSU’s Fairchild Theatre.
The play takes great liberties with the original tales; fractured fragments remain, reassembled as a child might, into a new and more complicated story.
Scenic design director Brandon Barker’s three hanging scrims have black and white projections of ’30s-era Detroit skyscrapers splashed onto them. Dramaturge Laura MacDonald explains in program notes that Detroiters, starving to death in 1932, participated in the Ford Hunger strike on a bitter March day. They were met with police and firefighters wielding hoses, tear gas and guns. Four people died.
It might be a Nostradamus stretch to suggest that these now deconstructed tales draw a parallel to that time of great economic woe.
No matter – the actors can sing; the singers can act. The result is spectacular. In this mix-match of lead characters, several individuals stand out. Cinderella, portrayed by Jacqueline Lee, has a lyrical soprano voice that pierces tender hearts, while Naomi Blansit as the witch combines a strong singing voice with vocal drama and dramatic pizzazz.
At the heart of this story is the baker, played by Kevin Baker. He and his wife, played by Sarah Gramercy yearn for a child. Gramercy adds yet another powerful vocal performance, while Baker makes up for a lesser musical performance, stepping to the edge of the stage with a husky deeply emotional speaking/singing performance of “No More.”
Maeyson Menzel is Little Red Riding Hood and sings a beautiful duet “No One is Alone” with Cinderella as the play comes to an end. Everyone is at the top of their game, not a weak performance by any.
Barker’s scenic design includes a backdrop with the big guy of Beanstalk fame, in which the whole stage shudders as we see a giant foot tumble over, on screen, behind the actors. Director Deric McNish has pulled it all together in this production, and it almost makes sense — especially if we can just suspend our hyper-adult critical voices and just sit back and enjoy the charm of it.
“Into the Woods”
Through Feb. 23
542 Auditorium Road, East Lansing