High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

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Monday, November 03, 2003

Sondheimian Sadism

On Saturday, I was scheduled for an unlikely road trip. I was to drive down to Urbana and keep on going to J & T's house with my good pal M (not to be confused with my beloved M) in tow. Why? J, NASCAR and porn lover extraordinaire, owner of the redneck pick up, had invited us all to an evening of musical theatre. This is slightly more extraordinary than T and M agreeing, given that they both hate musicals. I was thus cast in the unlikely role of the Polyanna of the group.

The drive down was uneventful, other than the car that had come to a dead stop in the center lane of I-57 and the fact that we had not brought directions of any kind with us. Fortunately, we're in Illinois where the "topography" (and I use sarcastic quote marks) of the land allows you to see things 150 miles away if you just look hard enough, so we made it ok.

We had dinner at an excellent (and quite elegant) restaurant near the theatre. The staff were a little to used to college students and kept asking us questions like, "Do you want separate checks." The consensus of my very mean friends was that I was at fault because I look like a college student. I'm an aged hag, I tell you! J took out-of-context notes (as is his wont) on the occasion with my pink pen, which I won milking a fiber glass cow, M hurled blame about in her bitterness about being too full for dessert, claiming that I had forced Heath blizzard down her gullet or something. I smiled beatifically and shoveled away my awesome turtle brownie.

The production of "Into the Woods" was quite good, and even my merry band of Sondheim-haters had to admit to liking some things. The sets were quite cool. Overall, most of the action took place on a wide apron. It was painted to look vaguely stonelike with veins running through it that could have indicated marble or a root system, and they had faced the edges of the opening to the pit so that it looked like a crevasse in the floor and gave a strip of stage downstage of the pit, giving the forest a more expansive feel than it would have otherwise had.

Upstage, there was a fairly narrow platform flanked with tree trunks and raised about three steps above the apron. In Act I, all the trees had a translucent outline of their own shape in front of them, giving a sort of stained glass effect, particularly in the trees most upstage which almost looked like a window pane. In Act II, the tracings were removed, revealing the trees themselves, which were quite realistic and sinister looking.

The cast was quite good overall. The Baker's wife had a great voice, although it didn't seem to quite hold up to 3 hours of singing. Cinderella sounded almost exactly like Kim Crosby, who sings the role in the original Broadway cast (although I'm happy to report that she picks up her cues better; there are days when I want to tazer KC when listening to the recording). The baker started out somewhat weak but by the end he was fully warmed up and sounded a lot like Chip Zien (again, the original Broadway dude). Red Riding Hood was unremarkable, but vocally, that's a pretty thankless role.

The witch was well done almost without exception. Her costuming was great. In Act I she had a grotesque bluish mask with a massive chin and nose with clawed hands to match. She wore a mauve robe with a sort of headpiece and a veil passing under her chin. In Act II, she had the requisite sparkly evening gown and cloak with a somewhat questionable head apparatus. She had a lovely voice, if a bit underpowered for the role. The only big misstep was her death. She is, of course, supposed to hurl herself into a crevasse, which is not easy to do on stage, I'll grant you. However, having her say "CRUNCH" at the end of "The Last Midnight" and then walk off stage doesn't . . . um . . . work.

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