Review: Into the Woods

I recently saw a production of Into the Woods by the Hypocrites at the Mercury Theater. It was wonderful. I highly recommend going. The Hypocrites are another one of those incredible treasures of Chicago Theatre. I’ve seen them do several two Gilbert & Sullivan’s plays, Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, which was fun. They took over bottom floor theatre at the Chopin and would run around the room, moving audience members for scenes. I can’t help but be astonished by kiddie pools and beach balls. Moreover, while audience members come in, the cast plays on various instruments, which is great. More live music the better.

They also did Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, which I enjoyed. I was well done with a lot of stage fighting (which I enjoyed but got tiresome for others). Overall, the Hypocrites are fantastic, full of energy and creativity, While it’s true that the productions aren’t as high budget as some theatres, they make it work for them.

Into the Woods was simply marvelous. The play is about intertwining fairy tales, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, etc, who find adventure and heartbreak in the dread “Woods.” It reminded me a bit of the comic book series Fables. The actors played various roles, often by switching hats or collars. It was spectacular to see how each actor would inhabit their roles. For instance, the same actress played both the evil sister and the witch (not going to call her evil though). She managed to make the two roles very distinct that the performance was simply brilliant.  The set looked like a children’s playroom with toy boxes, a  doll house, slide and bright-colored chairs. But the set worked well.  Also, they did the story of little Red Riding Hood as a shadow puppet show, so bravo to that.

But what I loved most about the play was how it tackled the moral problems of the fairy tales. In act 1, everyone is trying to make their wishes come true. But it meant stealing, lying, and even murdering to get what they want. Happily Ever After only happens for the protagonists, not the sisters with gouged out eyes or the dead Giant.  The second half the characters deal more directly with the result of their choices. I loved it. I’m not a fan of musicals as a rule but Stephen Sodheim is the bees knees.

So if you can, go see Into the Woods before it closes later this month.

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