Lyric Stage Grants Musical Theater Lovers Wishes With Stellar ‘Into the Woods’ (4.5 Stars)

Into the Woods – Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Book by James Lapine; Directed & Staged by Spiro Veloudos; Music Direction by Catherine Stornetta, Scenic Design by David Towlun; Costume Design by Elisabetta Polito. Presented by the Lyric Stage Company at 140 Clarendon St, Boston extended through June 22nd.

With this production of the musical that so clearly demonstrates the consequences of the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it,” The Lyric Stage Company artfully grants the wishes of Boston theatergoers wanting to see a great musical in an intimate setting. Powered by a stellar cast of local favorites, The Lyric and director Spiro Veloudos get pretty much everything right in this theatrical mash-up of well-known and new fairy tales by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.

The show opens (as all fairy tales do) “Once upon a time, in a far off kingdom,” where the characters – Cinderella, Jack of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ fame, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Baker and his Wife – are each wishing “more than anything” for something that they are sure will grant them happiness, whether it be to going to the King’s festival, for their cow to give milk, for a loaf of bread for Granny, or for a child of their own. And each will be granted their wish at some point in the story, but not without (some of them) radically compromising their values, and ALL of them later paying an unexpected price for their desires. In addition to those characters, we also meet Rapunzel, a Wolf, a Mysterious man and a couple of Princes when we go “into the woods”.

The dominant thread of the story is that of the Baker and his Wife, who can’t have a child due to the curse put on the house by the neighbor, who happens to be – not unpredictably – an ugly old Witch. In order to remove the curse, the couple must bring her “the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold,” and must do so before midnight three days hence. The characters (largely) self-centered quests for what they want causes their paths to crisscross, with each seeking from the others a key ingredient to what (they believe) will make them happy. In the first act, we see the characters pretty much get what they want, and in the second, we see the consequences for having those wishes granted, including a body count that rivals any Brothers Grimm story (or a “Criminal Minds” episode for that matter).

The cast is deep and talented, beginning with the marvelous Aimee Doherty as the Witch, who begins as an old hag before undergoing a total babe makeover, which robs her of her powers (another unintended consequence). Doherty commands every scene she’s in and shines in her vocal numbers, particularly “Children Will Listen”. The production features great performances by the other main women characters, most notably Erica Spyres as Cinderella and Lisa Yuen as the Baker’s Wife. Maritza Bostic, an alum of the Lyric First Stage summer program for young artists in 2010 and a 2014 graduate of Salem State’s theater arts program, does a wonderful job as Little Red Riding Hood. The male members of the cast also shine, with John Ambrosino as the Baker, Gregory Balla as Jack, and Maurice Emmanuel Parent and Sam Simahk as the Princes.

There are some brilliant numbers in the show, especially the poignant “You Are Not Alone” with Spyres, Ambrosino, Bostic and Balla bringing the house to tears. “Agony” sung by the two Princes was another standout in a show loaded with strong vocal performances. The costume design is colorful and imaginative and the set design is inspired. This is a great show from all angles, and the cozy confines of the Lyric (there isn’t a bad seat in the house) give this terrific show an intimate feel. The show has already been extended and according to sources is on a pace to sell out quicker than any show in the Lyric’s history. For more info, go to: