WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 17-22: Stripped-Down Into the Woods Casts a Spell on Critics and Anne Hathaway’s Going Solo

News   WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 17-22: Stripped-Down Into the Woods Casts a Spell on Critics and Anne Hathaway’s Going Solo
 
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s increasingly familiar musical Into the Woods got another go-round with the public this week, when a new, pared-down production — first seen at New Jersey's McCarter Theatre in May 2013 — opened at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre.

Claire Karpen and Emily Young
Claire Karpen and Emily Young Photo by Joan Marcus

Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, who directed the show in 2013 and again at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, CA, were back to repeat their work Off-Broadway. The production features the original McCarter Theatre Center/Fiasco Theater cast, which numbers only ten. But that’s nothing next to the orchestra, which numbers only one: a single pianist. A press release referred to the show as “unplugged,” invoking hip, youthful images of MTV.

Was it worth it bringing another interpretation of this well-worn show into town? Said the critics: Yes.

“Fiasco Theater’s truly enchanting production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods, which opened on Thursday night at the Laura Pels Theater, makes the best case ever for a musical that interpreters have been trying to get right since the show was first staged in the mid-1980s,” wrote the Times. “Directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, but obviously the product of a fully collaborative troupe, this Into the Woods reminds us that it takes a village to give myths enduring life.”

“Why go Into the Wood through the musical play when the big, splashy Disney movie is everywhere?” said AP, asking the question every reader was pondering. “Because a streamlined, refreshingly irreverent version of the 1987 theatrical classic by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine is being performed live in New York City.”

“Somehow, this let's-put-on-a-show strategy results in something both less self-conscious and more poignant than the film, or some previous stage productions of Woods, for that matter,” opined USA Today. “Stripping the show down to its essentials and entrusting them to a company whose biggest asset is its youthful vivacity, Brody and Steinfeld mine the urgency and tenderness in Lapine's book and Sondheim's lyrics — which, for all protestations otherwise, can be disarmingly simple and direct.” Detractors notes, however, that the cast wasn’t always up to the rigors of the score. “Stephen Sondheim’s score also gets dinged, admittedly unintentionally, thanks to a number of actors who fall short on his sumptuous but demanding music,” wrote the Daily News.

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Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The oddball collaboration of the week came courtesy of the Public Theater, which confirmed that Academy Award-winning “Les Misérables” film star Anne Hathaway will perform in George Brant's solo play Grounded, to be directed by Julie Taymor, this spring Off-Broadway. (Even odder than the teaming of Taymor and Hathway: Taymor directing a solo play!)

In Grounded, Hathaway will play a top-gun fighter pilot in the Middle East whose unexpected pregnancy ends her flight career. It will run April 7-May 17 at the Public's Anspacher Theater. Artistic Director Oskar Eustis voiced extremely high hopes for the production, saying, “This promises to be an unforgettable theatrical event, and an important addition to our national conversation.”

Brant's solo show won a Fringe First award at the Edinburgh Festival and had an extended run at London's Gate Theatre.

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As earlier intimated, Bradley Cooper is to reprise his performance in Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man, currently running at Broadway's Booth Theatre through Feb. 21, at London's Theatre Royal, Haymarket, beginning performances May 19 for a run through Aug. 8.

He will be joined by his Broadway co-stars Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola in Scott Ellis production. Also in the cast are Anthony Heald, Scott Lowell, Kathryn Meisle, Henry Stram, Chris Bannow, Peter Bradbury, Lucas Calhoun, Eric Clem, Amanda Lea Mason, Marguerite Stimpson and Emma Thorne.

However, the Broadway run is going to be cut a day short. Cooper has a little thing called the Oscars to attend on Feb. 22. He is currently Oscar-nominated for Best Actor and, as a producer for Best Picture for the film "American Sniper."

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Constantine Maroulis at the final curtain call
Constantine Maroulis at the final curtain call Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Times flies when you’re listening to classic rock.

The long-running musical Rock of Ages played its final performances at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre Jan. 18. It’s been on Broadway so long that it’s hard to remember when it opened. Some might be surprised to find out (I was, anyway) that that distant premiere was way back in the spring of 2009. Before that, it played 110 performances Off-Broadway before transferring to the Brooks Atkinson, its first Broadway home.

By the time it closed the hit musical had offered 22 previews and 2,328 regular performances, making it the 27th longest-running show in Broadway history. It’s an improbable ending for an improbable, lo-fi, 80s-power-rock-jukebox musical that got to New York by way of a dive bar in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. But an unexpectedly positive review from the New York Times helped. Among the endlessly quotable quips in child-of-the-80s Charles Isherwood’s review were “You want hair? Big hair? Hair you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley?”; “a seriously silly, absurdly enjoyable arena-rock musicals”; and “Call it Xanadu for straight people.” Ca-ching!

In the aftermath, the show just kept chugging along, not often filling its houses, but doing well enough to recoup its capitalization of $7.25 million in 2012.

The ensemble knew steady work when it saw it. The final cast also featured seven original cast members: Tony nominee Constantine Maroulis, Mitchell Jarvis, Adam Dannheisser, Paul Schoeffler, Andre Ward, Ericka Hunter and Michael Minarik.

Don’t Stop Believin’? They never did.

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