‘Into the Woods’ revival is ‘radiant’ and ‘superb,’ but will it compete at the 2023 Tony Awards?

Just shy of one month ago, a revival of legendary composer Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Company” took home five Tony Awards, including the top prize for Best Revival. Now a remounting of one of his most popular works, “Into the Woods,” has just kicked off the new 2022-2023 Broadway season. The production, which opened at the St. James Theatre on July 10 for an extremely limited run, originated as a starry two-week gala at New York City Center in May and earned such acclaim that it quickly announced this Broadway engagement with most of its cast in tact.

Brilliantly weaving together different fairytale characters, “Into the Woods” is a beautiful and moving fable (and cautionary tale) about parenting and community and of childhood wonder and the loss of innocence. The musical features a libretto by James Lapine, and Lear deBessonet helms this production. The enviable ensemble includes Tony nominees Sara Bareilles, Brian d’Arcy James, Joshua Henry, and Phillipa Soo, plus Tony winners Patina Miller and Gavin Creel, and others; Tony winners Heather Headley and Neil Patrick Harris and nominee Denée Benton had to bow out of the transfer due to scheduling conflicts.

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Critics gave this first production of the new Broadway season rapturous reviews. Alexis Soloski (New York Times) deems the show a Critic’s Pick, calling it “superb” and full of “humor, wonder and humanity.” She credits deBessonet’s  “refined” staging and notes how the director “paints in rich and plentiful tones.” Of the ensemble, she emphasizes Soo, who as Cinderella offers “a shimmering soprano who can make each emotion as legible as skywriting,” and Miller, who “renders the Witch with a fierce, dangerous glamour.”

Naveen Kumar (Variety) concurs, describing the show as “sensational,” “glorious,” and “radiant,” “a crystalline showcase for sensational performances from an all-star cast of marquee veterans.” He spotlights many of the ensemble members, including Soo, “a gentle-souled, indecisive dreamer — and a pratfalling klutz with a sharp but guileless sense of humor;” Bareilles, who “lends the Baker’s Wife verve and vulnerability, with a warm and assured comedic touch;” Creel, “an MVP of cartoon masculinity… a clever and meticulously calibrated laugh riot;” Julia Lester as Little Red Riding Hood, who offers “a wry portrait of brash and naive nonchalance;” and Miller who is clearly “delighting in her role.” He applauds the “refreshingly simple design” of this production, including the “evocative” set by David Rockwell and the “delicate richness and shadow” of Tyler Micoleau’s lighting design.

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Adam Feldman (Time Out New York) gives this revival four out of five stars, calling it a “focused, funny and thoroughly satisfying” production. He singles out the “delightfully natural and appealing” Bareilles and the “wonderfully bold and sneaky” Lester from the cast. He compliments the “simple and well-judged” choreography by Lorin Latarro and applauds deBessonet for how she handles the emotional turn of the second act of the show “movingly and gracefully.”

“Woods” opens the new Broadway season with a rapturous roar, but it does so with a major question mark about the very distant 2023 Tony Awards. The show will only run for eight weeks because of the schedules of its cast and another tenant moving into the St. James soon. This short run makes the logistics of accommodating all 800 or so Tony voters a challenge, not to mention giving away that many pairs of tickets for free. This was exactly the quandary faced by another Sondheim show that transferred from City Center to Broadway back in 2017: “Sunday in the Park with George.” The Jake Gyllenhaal-led production famously withdrew from Tony Awards consideration to shine the spotlight on other shows in need of the awards boost and because they only had 10 weeks to recoup their investment.

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Should “Woods” choose to compete for the Tonys, these reviews indicate it would likely do extremely well. Nominations for Best Musical Revival, Actress for Bareilles and Miller, Actor for James, Featured Actress for Soo and Lester, and Featured Actor for Creel all seem possible. But at this early moment in the season — nominations will not be announced for another nine months — only 14 productions have officially announced venues and opening dates, which means our understanding of the competition is incredibly incomplete. Only two other musical revivals are slated for this season so far: a new “Camelot” directed by Bartlett Sher with a new book by Aaron Sorkin, and a reimagined “1776” co-directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus and Jeffrey L. Page. The “Woods” cast would also have to compete against the performers upcoming original musicals “Almost Famous,” “Kimberly Akimbo,” “& Juliet,” “A Beautiful Noise, the Neil Diamond Musical,” and “Some Like It Hot.”

The original production of “Into the Woods” earned 10 Tony nominations and won three for Best Book, Best Score, and Best Actress for Joanna Gleason as The Baker’s Wife. The most revival of the show on Broadway in 2002 did just as well in nominations, earning 10, and took home two awards for Best Revival and Best Lighting Design; it earned four acting bids for Vanessa Williams as the Witch, Gregg Edelman as the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince, Laura Benanti as Cinderella, and the late John McMartin as the Narrator and Mysterious Man. Those past bids for Gleason, Williams, Edelman, and Benanti bode well for Bareilles, Miller, Creel, and Soo, who take on those parts in this revival, respectively.

Only time will tell if this “Into the Woods” will venture into the thorny thicket of the Tonys, but one certainly hopes that this Sondheim revival will at least have the opportunity to try and match the awards haul that “Company” so richly received this year.

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