‘Into the Woods’: Sondheim and Lyric at their best

The cast in a scene  from  the Lyric Stage’s “Into the Woods.” Photo by Mark S. Howard

The cast in a scene from the Lyric Stage’s “Into the Woods.” Photo by Mark S. Howard

BOSTON — The businessman and author Harvey MacKay said “Find something you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Suffice it to say that Spiro Veloudos, the producing artistic director of the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, never actually worked while he directed the theater’s current production of “Into The Woods.”
Veloudos makes no secret of the fact that he is a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim‘s musicals, and indeed I don’t, either.
Some of the Lyric‘s greatest moments in recent years have been productions of Sondheim musicals — “Assassins,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “A Little Night Music” “Follies” — come to mind, and now “Into The Woods” joins them in a sterling production now at the Lyric Stage Company through June 15.  “Sweeney Todd,” by the way, will open Lyric’s 2014-15 season.
Just staging something such as “Into The Woods” with its 17 characters in the intimate Lyric space is in itself an achievement, and as usual Veloudos carries it off with aplomb.

Maritza Bostic and Maurice Emmanuel Parent in “Into The Woods.”  Photo by Mark S. Howard.

Maritza Bostic and Maurice Emmanuel Parent in “Into The Woods.” Photo by Mark S. Howard.

James Lapine’s book co-stars with one of Sondheim’s finest scores in this mash-up of familiar fairy tales. Lapine and Sondheim manage to get all of the various characters to a happy place during the funny first act that has them crossing paths (“Ever After”) and then spends the second act deconstructing that happiness and putting them in harm’s way.
Veloudos’ attention to detail and his adroit and diverse casting make this one of the must-see shows of the spring.
First off, Veloudos gets all the major players right, including John Ambrosino as The Baker and Lisa Yuen as the Baker’s Wife; their next-door neighbor, Aimee Doherty, as The Witch who curses them and is in turn herself cursed in other ways; and Erica Spyres as a Cinderella yearning for something more in life than just a Prince Charming.
The Witch battles with the strong-willed Rapunzel (Amanda Spinelli) she has raised — somewhat unsuccessfully, given her living conditions — and Will McGarrahan lends skilled support as the Narrator who also becomes part of the story. Gregory Balla is an amusingly befuddled Jack.
Newcomer Maritza Bostic is just fine as the taken-down-a-peg Little Red Ridinghood (“I Know Things Now”) and Maurice Emmanuel Parent is a hilariously malevolent Wolf (“Hello, Little Girl”) before morphing into Cinderella’s not-always-charming Prince, teaming with Sam Simahk’s Rapunzel’s Prince for a lovely duet in “Agony.”
Music Director Catherine Stornetta is one of the finest at what she does in the area, and the score is in good balance with the voices.
Maureen Keiller provides apt comic relief as Cinderella’s Wicked Stepmother, along with her daughters Florida (Christine English) and Lucinda (Elise Arsenault).
And while “Into the Woods” is a true ensemble — everyone gets a chance to shine — when the chips are down in the second act, Sondheim will entrust his second-act songs to best-drawn characters: the Baker (“No More”), the Baker’s Wife (“Moments in the Woods”), the Witch (“Witch’s Lament”), and Ambrosino and Spyres will send a chill down your spine with their heartbreakingly lovely duet in “No One is Alone.”
Attention, parents; this is not a children’s show, but any child old enough to sit quietly in a theater for an extended period (two hours, 45 minutes) and understands that fairy tales aren’t real can enjoy it.
“Into The Woods” glows and reflects the love and passion both the director and the players put into it. It’s all at once funny, then despairing, but despite the wringer Lapine puts them through, in the end The Witch, The Baker and Cinderella are just like the rest of us — hopeful of better times ahead.
It’s Sondheim — and Lyric Stage — at its best.
The Lyric Stage Company production of “Into The Woods.” Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. At the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through June 15. http://www.lyricstage.com.