Magic gets lost in Hypocrites’ ‘Woods’
By HEDY WEISS Theater Critic February 12, 2014 9:04PM
Kate Harris, Aubrey McGrath, Hannah Dawe, Joel Ewing, Hillary Marren and Allison Hendrix star in The Hypocrites' production of "Into the Woods." | PHOTO BY EVAN HANOVER
‘INTO THE WOODS’
When: Through March 30
Where: Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport
Info: (773) 325-1700;
Run time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, with one intermission
Updated: February 13, 2014 10:40AM
The clever concept animating The Hypocrites’ production of “Into the Woods,” the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical that elaborately interweaves the quests of a slew of classic fairy tale characters, is clear from the moment you enter the Mercury Theater Chicago. The stage, featuring a beguilingly naive set by William Boles, suggests the playground of a top-notch arts magnet school, with brightly chalked-up walls, a slide, chairs in primary colors, a plastic train set, and toy chests full of costume pieces. And when it’s time for the characters to travel into the often dangerous, confusing woods, the trees appear in full bloom with bungee cord branches laced with balloons.
But while there are many delightful moments in this show, which has been directed with high-pitched energy by Geoff Button, the “big kids at play” approach so often employed by The Hypocrites grows exhausting here. And long before the “once upon a time” of the long first act is reprised for the show’s “be careful what you wish for” second act, you might wish the whole enterprise had been trimmed to 90 minutes. There is altogether too much storytelling going on in this show to begin with, and too often the frenzy of this production obscures its emotional punch.
This is not to say that the cast of 10 in this immensely ambitious undertaking is not full of talent. I just wish they’d taken time to breathe. It all begins as a very decent Baker (the winningly mellow Joel Ewing), and his Wife (Allison Hendrix, whose animated face and determination score many points) try to break the curse of infertility cast by a Witch (Hillary Marren, whose vivid presence is marred by blurred diction), who years earlier wanted to punish the Baker’s father (a low-key Blake Montgomery). To reverse the spell the Baker must gather “a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold” in three days’ time. And as he and his wife madly pursue these things they encounter: Jack of beanstalk fame (Aubrey McGrath, who gives a showstopping rendering of “Giants in the Sky”), and his Mother (the excellent Kate Harris); Cinderella (a perfectly neurotic Sarah Bockel) and her Prince Charming (comically smug, macho Will Skrip); Rapunzel (Bockel), who the lonely Witch holds captive, and who is romanced by another Prince (Michael Brown); the curious Red Riding Hood (deftly precocious Hannah Dawe), and the Wolf (Skrip) who teaches her a thing or two.
Music director Matt Deitchman leads a fine band, but sometimes drowns out Sondheim’s intensely dense lyrics in this brilliant but overstuffed show.