Outlook Ohio Entertainment: Into The Woods – Connor Palace Theatre, Cleveland Playhouse Square
Even if you’ve seen the recent Disney film adaption or one of the previous Broadway stage productions of “Into the Woods”, seek out and see Fiasco Productions’ rendition presently touring and in Cleveland now through January 29, 2017. This stage presentation is not only unlike any other version of Into The Woods, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before!
I’m Craig Chadwell. My husband, Mike Moffo, is the Sales Director of Outlook Ohio Magazine. He recently sent me on an adventure to catch Into The Woods at the Connor Palace Theatre inside the stunning Playhouse Square complex. With our oldest daughter riding along, we embarked on the journey knowing the basics of the story and having seen the Disney version, but hoping for something different – hoping for a new twist on a familiar amalgamation of a number of classic Grimm’s Brothers fairy tales. We found our curiosity and sense of adventure well sated by the Fiasco version.
If you’ve never seen a show at the Playhouse Square complex, it is an additional reason to catch the show. Second only to the Lincoln Center in New York City, it is the largest performing arts center in these Untied States. And it’s here in Ohio. With an unprecedented simultaneous renovation of nine connected theaters, it’s an architectural marvel of the grandest scale. How in the world this feat was orchestrated is beyond my comprehension. A monstrous undertaking executed flawlessly, to my eyes. The lobbies, the connecting hallways, and the theatres themselves are breathtaking.
Upon entering the Connor Palace Theatre (which, to Columbus folks is reminiscent of the Ohio Theatre), the fantasy-like set bordering on garish is also seemingly mystical. The proscenium arch – the outline of the stage sides and across the top — were lined with about 20 piano keyboards in various stages or disrepair. And the shell alongside of the stage used about 20 golden piano frames – the harp-shaped part of the piano that holds all the strings. So, the outsides of the set definitely struck a chord (pun intended) in the musical vein. The non-matching eight or so chandeliers hanging above added to the ecclesia.
Seemingly strewn about the stage were many seemingly random items that, as the production progressed, clearly had a purpose: a grandfather clock, an upright piano, bongos, some chairs, a chair and table, a nightstand, a small drum set, a lamp, and table. And in the back, a huge array of thick ropes hung layers deep in rows. They seemed like exaggerated piano strings. Later, with the right lighting and as the actors wander through them, these ropes became the essence of The Woods.
So that’s a lot about the facility and the set, and those things deserve mentioning. But the true highlight of the show is the cast of 10 who also simultaneously double as the orchestra when not directly involved in the action on stage! Knowing that I was going to write this, I tried to think during the performance, “Who stole the show?” At times, and seemingly most often, it was Milky White, the Cow. But at other times, it was the witch, or the baker, or the baker’s wife, or Rapunzel, or Granny, or Jack, or the stepmother, or Cinderella. Yes, each member of this cast gave moments of laughs and moments of tension. I am certain that the professional reviewer who sat to my right and took copious pages of notes could cull out the one show-stealer but as a person who turned off his brain and enjoyed the moment, I truly enjoyed each character.
I mentioned above that the cast members were also the orchestra. This is a true testament to the talent of this cast as they all played instruments – and multiple instruments throughout the show – when not a part of the active scene. Instruments were varied and were a fairly non-conventional assortment: bassoon, cello, drums, triangle, bird call, paint can, manjira hand cymbals, trumpet, flugelhorn. The music director playing his overly-tall old-time saloon style piano was on stage always, often leaving the audience looking at the back of the piano. Once again, it added to the randomness and made one forget that there technically was an orchestra to this production. My favorite instrument that I recognized by sound but didn’t recognize visually was the waterphone. (Google it or YouTube it. You’ll realize you’ve heard it many times before, especially if you’re a horror movie fan.)
In writing all that I have above, I’m either assuming that you already know the story of Into The Woods, or that you wouldn’t really care for me to be a “spoiler.” Although, to ruin the plot twists that make this a truly enjoyable story to watch unfold, would honestly only be part of the story. The raw genius of the actors’ portrayals of these classic characters is the golden egg that makes this production a must-see. Go see it! Leave the world outside, sit in the beautiful space, and enjoy the happily ever after that is…Into The Woods.