Erik Liberman and Danielle Ferland
in Into the Woods
(© Richard Anderson)
Erik Liberman and Danielle Ferland
in Into the Woods
(© Richard Anderson)
Mark Lamos' new production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's legendary 1987 fractured fairy tale opus, Into the Woods, now at CENTERSTAGE in Baltimore, may seem a bit radical depending on one's point view. But there can be little argument that Lamos and his cast emerge as solid caretakers of this notoriously tricky musical in which blame and guilt, accidents and death, the follies of selfishness, and the lasting effects of misguided child-rearing, play prominent parts.

There is also no doubt that Lamos has a concept: the production opens with the characters spread about in frozen discombobulation like abandoned wind-up dolls, The Narrator (Jeffry Denman, channeling Johnny Depp's take on Sweeney Todd) begins to move cut-out figures around a Victorian toy-box dollhouse, and the actors come to life, establishing a motif that Lamos revisits a couple of times during the evening.

From Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood to Jack and Rapunzel, Lapine and Sondheim open up these stock characters and explore their psychological motivations (which are only hinted at in the original tales). As they enter and exit the woods in pursuit of individual wishes, their encounters run the gamut from petty squabbling to murderous hostility, from canny bartering to outright theft, and from seductive glances to sexual conquest.

As Sondheim's moving Act II ballad insists, no one is alone. And no one goes unscathed, either, particularly when a giant's wife turns vengeful after the was-it-or-wasn't-it accidental murder of her husband.

Danielle Ferland, Broadway's original Little Red, graduates to the role of the Baker's Wife here, and, although she misses some of the part's wry humor, sings commandingly, while Erik Liberman is an earnest and touching Baker. The attractive Lauren Kennedy ironically excels as the hideous-looking Witch but comes off a little like a soccer mom after her magical transformation into regal youth and beauty.

Dana Steingold, despite being a touch mature for the role, makes a sassy Little Red. Jenny Latimer and Justin Scott Brown offer well-sung turns as Cinderella and Jack, respectively, and Nik Walker and Robert Lenzi as the Princes turn their show-stopping duet, "Agony," into ecstasy for the audience.

Allen Moyer has provided efficient but painterly toy theater sets; Candice Donnelly has designed subtle, vintage fairy tale frocks; and Robert Wierzel's lighting is effectively moody. The small orchestra, led by Wayne Barker, feels a little under-staffed for so rich a score.

Still, to paraphrase the words of a couple of other pre-Sondheim poets, these Woods are alive with the sound of music, and remain lovely, dark and deep.