Last night I saw Into the Woods, a musical composed by Stephen Sondheim back in the mid 1980's, at the 5th Avenue Theatre. This was yet another of the "musicals I don't recall ever hearing of or seeing," besides the occasional reference. The musical interweaves four famous fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Cinderella) within a common setting and then attempts to answer the question "what happens AFTER 'Happily Ever After'?"
The first act is pretty straight-forward, and tells each of the four stories, threading them together with an original fifth story that builds its plot using elements from each of the other four. At first, I expected it to become quite a mess of subplots that would be nothing if not confusing to follow. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find it very easy to follow, probably the result of the four fairy tales being so familiar and the characters so distinct. But despite how busy it was, I found the first act to be very level-toned, with not much excitement or any climactic points whatsoever. It was a very long (1.5 hours for the Act I alone) set up for the second act. If fact, at the end of the first act, short of a "To Be Continued!" announced by the narrator, you'd likely be asking the question (as some around me did), "Is that the end? Or is it just intermission?"
Act II is where the stories converge and the real embellishment occurs as the characters from each of the stories unite in a common goal of defending themselves against the Giant of the Beanstalk's wife avenging the death of her husband in the first act. I must admit, as the second act began, I had that momentary dread of "should I have left at the intermission?" But the second act proved to actually be a bit captivating, and rather entertaining, which kept my attention easily until the conclusion.
As this was one of the 5th's local productions, the cast drew from the finest musical performers Seattle has to offer, who are certainly not a disappointment. The scenery and other effects were top-notch, while without all the flash and awe that seems to have become the requisite of current Broadway musicals. It was a solid musical in the genre of what I would call "traditional American musicals."
On to the ratings:
Script - 3 stars - Interesting premise, but it just didn't appeal much to me.
Technical - 4 stars - Solid and quality. Even the occasional pyrotechnics. Well designed and well executed. It was like looking into a storybook.
Cast - 4 stars - An outstanding local group of performers, with some definite highlights but consistent quality overall.
Music - 3 stars - Despite its Tony award-winning score (edging out Phantom for the honor in 1988), I just wasn't impressed. Though not bad, I didn't come away humming the tunes or wanting more.
Overall - 3 stars - Hard to justify more. I would see it again if given the right opportunity, but not otherwise.