There is a heartiness to Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s production Into the Woods that is as big as any giant in the sky. It is the stuff born out of childlike imagination, and that inventiveness compensates for any of its shortcomings.
For those unfamiliar with Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical, or the subsequent Disney film adaptation, Into the Woods is about a ragtag group of storybook characters who end up in an enchanted wood to find fulfillment. But what happens when they get what they wish for? What happens after the happily ever after?
From this existential place, Into the Woods can easily be oversung, overplayed, and overdone. It is a show that demands a type of joie de vivre to engage its audience for the better part of three hours. Fortunately, Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s scrappy troupe, helmed by Jeremy Fiebig and Traycie Kuhn-Zapata, understand that and take a campy approach to this grandiose material.
And it’s a good thing they do, because in these woods, things aren’t perfect. The vocals aren’t always synced with the track and some performers strain to sing beyond their range.
And yet, despite these foibles, the alchemy of this site-specific production of Into the Woods, is unparalleled.
Upon entry into the Fayetteville Pie Company, bystanders are offered sustenance, sweet and savory, spiked (or not), as if to prepare for a tumultuous journey ahead. Cast members mingle with the townspeople, casting their spell, at which point, observers become accomplices. Ordinary objects are then transformed into something extraordinary, and a small shop becomes a fanciful world of wonder.
Despite the sanctification of Sondheim since his passing, Into the Woods feels a little played out. Every camp, high school, and community theater has produced it. Yet neath the umbrella of Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s industriousness, this timeworn piece is reinvigorated and proves to be a welcome escape from reality… if only for a moment.
Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s production of Into the Woods runs through April 10 at The Fayetteville Pie Company and April 21 through May 8 at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Fayetteville. For more information visit https://sweetteashakespeare.com/into-the-woods-fayetteville-nc-events/.
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