An Enchanting Journey “Into the Woods” at the Hollywood Bowl
by Juliette Boland
Each summer The Hollywood Bowl presents a fully staged Broadway musical, featuring an impressive combination of Broadway and Hollywood’s finest musical theater talent. This past weekend, I was excited to attend this year’s offering, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods, a clever mash-up of beloved fairy tale characters, the exploration of wishes and consequences and the examination of the age-old adage…Be careful what you wish for.
Skillfully directed and choreographed by Tony nominee Robert Longbottom (Flower Drum Song, Side Show, Pageant) and starring Broadway favorites Sutton Foster as The Baker’s Wife, Patina Miller as The Witch, and Sierra Boggess as Cinderella as well as Pitch Perfect’s Skylar Astin as The Baker and Stranger Things star Gaten Matarazzo as Jack, Into The Woods provided a magically enchanting night of theater under the stars.
Sondheim is easily one of my all-time favorite Broadway composers, known for his intricate, quick-paced scores with musical numbers that are challenging even for the most seasoned of performers. The casts of these summer musicals at the Bowl are famously only given a few weeks to learn the material, and to learn Sondheim at that is a feat which I applaud them for. Well, this incredible group of performers not only learned this music, they conquered it! Skillfully performing such Sondheim favorites as: “Children Will Listen” and “No One Is Alone.”
As a musical theater student, I have always been fascinated by Sondheim’s work and this show in particular. The original Broadway production starring Joanna Gleason as The Baker’s Wife and Bernadette Peters as The Witch has always been my favorite and I’ve been hard pressed to find any production that has even come close.
Into The Woods at the Hollywood Bowl set a new bar for me, exceeding ALL my expectations!
This cast was sheer perfection. Each character beamed with their own indelible magic and creativity. I could instantly feel their energy and excitement extend past my seat and all the way back to the nosebleed sections. If you’ve been to the Hollywood Bowl, you know that’s pretty far.
One of the most vibrant, lovable characters has always been the Baker’s Wife, who I consider to be the heart of the story, played brilliantly by the inimitable Sutton Foster. The Baker, played perfectly by Skylar Astin, and his wife have been cursed childless by the Witch. They must journey into the woods on a scavenger hunt of magical items that will reverse the spell. Foster and Astin’s chemistry was my favorite. I just loved them together! Foster’s expert comedic timing, sharp line delivery, and her show-stopping rendition of, “Moments In The Woods”, easily proved why she is a multiple Tony award winner, while Astin provided some of the most poignant moments of the night.
Another character equally as affable was Little Red Riding Hood, played by Shanice Williams. If you remember Williams as Dorothy in The Wiz Live, then you know she has the vocal chops, but little did we know how funny she could be! She was simply delightful in this role, bouncing across the stage, consuming all the sweets within reach; all while bringing a sass to her character that made the audience fall in love with her.
The real surprise of the night was Gaten Matarazzo, the most enjoyable, heartfelt Jack I have ever seen. Famous for his role as Dustin on the Netflix hit series, Stranger Things, it is not widely known that Matarazzo has roots in musical theater having appeared on Broadway as Gavroche in Les Miserables and Benjamin in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
While, most of his fans – and there were many in attendance at the Bowl – are used to seeing Matarazzo fighting off gory Demogorgons, it was a treat to see him in a whole new genre.
His solo “Giants in the Sky” was full of the magic that is needed for this show. His curiosity of the world that lies above the clouds and his earnest love for his pet cow, Milky White, captured everyone’s hearts. He got the best response from the audience, and I thought how proud his family must be of him. His performance was utterly enchanting, and I think it’s time for him to go back to Broadway!
Sierra Boggess, best known for her unforgettable portrayal of Christine in both Phantom of the Opera and Love Never Dies, was captivatingly beautiful as Cinderella.
Her vocal performance was like taking a Masterclass in control and execution. Every musical theater actress wants her voice (me included) as Boggess can seamlessly shift from belt to mix to head with such finesse and ease. Her voice is so magical, like a real Disney princess. Well, she was, after all, the original Ariel in The Little Mermaid on Broadway!
Bringing the house down with her exciting performance as the Witch was Patina Miller (Sister Act, Pippin). The Witch is essentially the lead of the show, bringing all of these fairy tale characters together, teaching them that sometimes the things you most wish for are not to be touched! She was so powerful in her performance as the Witch that I actually believed she had magical powers! Her voice had the strength and precision of a Bernadette Peters, but Miller made each song uniquely hers, especially with the climactic, “Last Midnight”, where her character realizes that she doesn’t want to live her life anymore and disappears into nothingness. It was an electric farewell number, the entire Bowl erupted in applause and cheers.
Costumes! I am so glad that costume designer Ann Hould-Ward drew inspiration from the original Broadway production. I instantly recognized the some of the costumes in the first scene and couldn’t contain my excitement! I’m such a geek. The costumes were enchanting and brought each character to life through vibrant colors and elaborate designs that looked as if they leapt off the pages of my childhood fairytale books.
Cinderella’s gown, in particular, was gorgeous. Just like in the original production, the gown had the perfect Princess elements while still allowing the actress to move, often running across the stage and taking a comedic tumble onto the ground.
Longbottom’s fantastic direction perfectly conveyed the mystical wonder of this story. I absolutely loved how he chose to stage The Witch’s climactic song, “Last Midnight”. Throughout the number, the Witch is casting a spell over the other characters, controlling them like puppets. It almost brought an eerie tone to the number, providing multiple layers to the scene. I also loved the direction in the numbers, “No More” and “No One is Alone”. Longbottom was able to produce great intimacy in these scenes, creating the motif of parental guidance. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house during these two numbers. They were exceptionally acted and directed.
Rounding out this exceptional cast was Chris Carmack as Rapunzel’s Prince, Tony winner Anthony Crivello as The Mysterious Man, Edward Hibbert as The Narrator, Cheyenne Jackson as Cinderella’s Prince/The Wolf, Hailey Kilgore as Rapunzel, Rebecca Spencer as Jack’s Mother, Tamyra Gray as Granny/Cinderella’s Mother, Stella Kim as Lucinda, Daniel López as Prince’s Steward, Gregory North as Cinderella’s Father, Edelyn Okano as Cinderella’s Stepmother, Grace Yoo as Florinda, Claire Adams as Snow White, Monica Ricketts as Sleeping Beauty, and Richard Biglia, Devinn Harris, Rees James and Karl Warden as the Woodsmen. Talk-show host, Whoopi Goldberg lent her voice to the production as “The Giant.”
I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to journey into the woods as much as when I was leaving the Hollywood Bowl that night, and I’m not a nature person. This was such a great production of Into the Woods, flawlessly capturing the dreaminess and nostalgia of the classic fairytales we know and love, while teaching us all to be careful what you wish for. I wish there were more performances of Into The Woods. I wish!
Thank you to the Hollywood Bowl for inviting me to this unforgettable night!
P.S. Once the Bowl announces next summer’s musical, I highly recommend getting your tickets early! Summer musical theater at The Hollywood Bowl is evening you must experience at least once in your life. Visit them here: The Hollywood Bowl
Once upon a time…I played Cinderella in YADA’s Production of Into The Woods in Los Angeles! Not quite The Hollywood Bowl, but a girl has got to start somewhere….
Juliette Boland is Harvard Prize recipient, a four-time National Arts & Entertainment Journalism and Southern California Journalism Award winner and a proud member of Los Angeles Press Club. She is a SENIOR at Orange County School of the Arts, Musical Theatre Conservatory. Her work can also be seen on Los Angeles Times High School Insider.