The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Review | UI’s ‘Into the Woods’ is a stirring reprise of the original

The student production, playing until March 9 at the university’s E.B. Mabie Theatre, brought James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical to life with inspired grace.
Ava Neumaier
The ensemble cast sings “Children Will Listen” during a performance of “Into The Woods” in the University of Iowa’s E.C. Mabie Theatre Building on Wednesday, Feb. 28th, 2024. The show is running from March 1-3 and 7-9.

Roughly five minutes into the University of Iowa Theatre Arts Department’s production of “Into the Woods” — specifically when Jack’s mother sings the line “while her withers wither with her” — I was completely won over.

James Lapine’s and Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical has been a Broadway mainstay since its debut in 1987. “Into the Woods” intertwines and reimagines several classic fairy tale stories — “Cinderella,” “Rapunzel,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” — to spin a tale about what happens when you wish for a happy ending.

Director Stephen Thorne exquisitely brought this award-winning play to life. The production design accomplished so much, conveying hard-to-approach visuals like the destruction of a forest and a conversation with a giant in a way that worked on stage.

Additionally, the production was much funnier than I expected. There was one moment in particular that got a lot of laughs that I’m positive wasn’t in the original 1987 version; the injection of contemporary humor into the show was appreciated.

Because of the nature of this show’s story, it had to juggle a lot of different characters. But the UI’s production did so with ease. I found it impressive how much it accomplished when performing this balancing act.

Each character had their time to shine, and this is perhaps the only show where it’s not an insult to say that the Cow was the best character.

Every actor was a strong fit for their role, and they all had the singing chops required to bring a classic Sondheim musical to life.

The orchestra was set up in the center of the stage and scenes often involved actors walking through and around them, which produced an immersive effect. This likely goes without saying, but Sondheim’s composition is excellent: The intricate rhythms and shifting time signatures kept things interesting from the first note of every song to the last.

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Some stage musicals suffer from resolving their story by the end of the first act, and I felt that way about this one too. On a similar note, I enjoyed Act One more than Act Two.

While the second act has a lot of strong, entertaining moments, the first felt more tightly plotted to me.

While the show is fun and has a lot of comedic elements, don’t expect a pure comedy. “Into the Woods” is ultimately a tragic story that takes a lot of dark turns in its second half. It makes the case that there’s no such thing as a true happy ending.

UI’s “Into the Woods” is a delightful production that brings the classic story to life with the highest quality you can expect from a student production. I had the title song stuck in my head for the rest of the night long after the curtain closed.

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About the Contributors
Grant Darnell, Arts Reporter
Grant Darnell is a second year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in English and Creative Writing and Screenwriting Arts. He is currently an Arts Reporter for the Daily Iowan.
Ava Neumaier
Ava Neumaier, Photojournalist
Ava Neumaier is a first-year student at the University of Iowa, majoring in English & Creative Writing. She was the Editor-in-Chief of her high school yearbook in New York, and has interned for a New York Times photographer. She enjoys taking pictures of performances and student life.