Stephen Sondheim is known for slippery, witty lyrics and beautiful, difficult-to-perform music. And he didn't shatter that reputation when he wrote "Into the Woods," his two-act operetta based on familiar fairy tales.
To pull off this tricky two-hour-and-45-minute musical, the cast must be well trained as both actors and vocalists. Such is the case with Kansas University's production of the Sondheim favorite.
Act I of "Into the Woods" interweaves the tales of Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Cinderella and Jack (and his beanstalk) with an original story about a baker and his wife, who are childless because of a witch's curse. All of the characters eventually go into the woods to find "the thing that makes life worth living." By the end of the act, the baker's wife is pregnant, Cinderella and Rapunzel find their princes, Jack gains riches and Little Red Riding Hood escapes the wolf.
All is well -- until the curtain rises for Act II and we learn that getting what we want may not be what we think it's going to be. The characters lose loved ones, are jolted into responsibility and face troubling moral decisions.
Act I will have you rocking with laughter; Act II will rattle you silent with sentiment.
Standouts are many in this theatrical fare: Carson Elrod, Trey Hohman, Donell Leopold, Andrea Lockett, Siri Vik, Dominique Boucard, Dana Hess, Ty Abrahamson, Karen Carmody, Jason Holland, Phoebe Zimmerman and Chris Thompson. No exaggeration. Each of these young actor-vocalists gives an extraordinary performance.
Congratulations to guest director Jeff Caldwell, musical director Mark Ferrell and scenic designer Dennis Christilles, who have combined their considerable talents to bring Sondheim's melodious brilliance successfully to the stage.
"Into the Woods" continues at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Inge Theatre in Murphy Hall.