‘Into the Woods’ a magical journey worth taking at Paramount Theatre

Paramount’s production, directed by Jim Corti and Trent Stork, does the show justice, deftly managing to be immensely family friendly while also leaning hard into the musical’s mature themes and darker elements.

SHARE ‘Into the Woods’ a magical journey worth taking at Paramount Theatre
Stephen Schellhardt plays the Baker (from left), Larry Yando is the Narrator, and Sarah Bockel plays the Baker’s Wife in “Into the Woods” at the Paramount Theatre.  

Stephen Schellhardt plays the Baker (from left), Larry Yando is the Narrator, and Sarah Bockel plays the Baker’s Wife in “Into the Woods” at the Paramount Theatre.

Liz Lauren

Most of us have some familiarity with the fairy tales spun into Stephen Sondheim’s lyrically and musically mind-blowing musical “Into the Woods.” And the characters therein: Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Jack, his beanstalk — all in the show (book by James Lapine). “Into the Woods” has long had a convenient synopsis: It’s about what happens after happily-ever-after.

Questions Sondheim addresses: How did things turn out for Cinderella after marrying a guy she’d known for less than three midnights? What kind of mother would imprison her daughter in a castle with no exits and only a hairbrush to keep her occupied? How is the ending of “Jack and the Beanstalk” happy if you’re the giant?

‘Into the Woods’

Into the Woods

When: Through March 19

Where: Paramount Aurora, 29 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora

Tickets: $28 - $89

Run-time: 3 hours, including one intermission

Info: paramountaurora.com

Money, mortality, morality and spectacular showmanship are near the heart of Paramount Theatre’s wondrous production of Sondheim’s often laugh-out-loud funny and constantly thought-provoking musical.

Paramount’s production, directed by Jim Corti and Trent Stork, does the show justice, deftly managing to be immensely family friendly while also leaning hard into the musical’s mature themes and darker elements. Chief among them: Happily-ever-after is a myth in a world where, per the Witch (Natalie Weiss), “sometimes people leave you, halfway through the woods.” Paramount doesn’t sugarcoat the elements of loss and regret that “Into the Woods,” explores, but it won’t give children nightmares, either.

In the first act, a familiar clutch of fairy tale characters goes into the woods on journeys. Princess, golden eggs, children — all wishes granted. The second act shows what happens next. The eggs were stolen. The baby won’t stop crying. The princess? Problematic. Looming over all is the Giant, (Dana Tretta), egregiously, irreparably harmed in the first act and demanding blood sacrifice in the second.

The Wolf (Alex Syiek) chats with Little Red Ridinghood (Lucy Panush) in a scene from “Into the Woods.”

The Wolf (Alex Syiek) chats with Little Red Ridinghood (Lucy Panush) in a scene from “Into the Woods.”

Liz Lauren

Larry Yando sets a mood of droll wonder as the Narrator/Mysterious Man. He swans about in sumptuous regalia (opulent work throughout from costume designer Jordan Ross), refusing to properly identify himself as he watches the story unfold under his beneficent guidance.

Yando’s matched in mystery and presence by Weiss’ witch, whose garden of succulent greens and magic beans is at the root of a multi-generational curse that impacts everyone from Little Red Riding Hood (Lucy Panush, a graceful, agile dancer who is also totally believable as a young woman who greatly enjoys stabbing and skinning things) to Rapunzel (Molly Hernandez, making the most of a role that goes from insipid to madness, mostly in a wordless aria).

Weiss does well with the show’s signature belters: “The Last Midnight” is at once condemnation, ultimatum and plea. “Children Will Listen” brims with rue and wisdom.

As the latter song title indicates, parents and their children figure heavily in the story, although it would be a spoiler to reveal all of them. Jack (an endearing/bratty Will Koski) and Jack’s Mother (Christine Bunuan, capturing the Sisyphean fatigue of endless work and endless debt with sharp humor and heroic dignity) struggle to get by on a poxy cow, until Jack makes them rich by stealing from a giant who invited him for lunch. Cinderella (Hannah Louise Fernandes, whose ambivalent agony “On the Steps of the Palace” will be wildly entertaining to anyone who has ever — to paraphrase Sondheim — made a decision not to decide) prays to her dead mother (also Tretta, shimmering in presence and vocals).

Cinderella (Hannah Louise Fernandes) gets left behind as her stepmother (Kelli Harrington) and stepsisters Florinda (Ann Delaney) and Lucinda (Landree Fleming) depart for the Prince’s Ball in Paramount Theatre’s production of “Into the Woods.” 

Cinderella (Hannah Louise Fernandes, from left) gets left behind as her stepmother (Kelli Harrington) and stepsisters Florinda (Ann Delaney) and Lucinda (Landree Fleming) depart for the Prince’s Ball in Paramount Theatre’s production of “Into the Woods.”

Liz Lauren

Cinderella’s Prince (Alex Syiek) and Rupunzel’s Prince (Devin DeSantis) are not related, but they are brothers, men ranged to be “to be charming, not sincere.”

While the princes bemoan their romantic states, the Baker’s Wife (Sarah Bockel) and the Baker (Stephen Schellhardt) seek to undo a curse that has left them childless. Bockel creates a major moment tackling temptation in “Moments in the Woods,” a concise, musical treatise on quandary that has entangled humans for aeons.

Which brings us to the Baker and the second act duet “No More,” a contemplative number between Schellhardt’s Baker and Yando’s Mysterious Man. It winds up being the hushed, emotional epicenter of “Into the Woods,” a sorry/joyful ode to the uncanny power of genetics and the strength of blood connections.

Although the sound design needs tweaking — Kory Danielson’s 16-piece orchestra outweighs the vocals every so often — the stage is eye-popping from start to finish. Scenic designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s lushly populated woods shimmer and blaze in Paul Santiago’s vibrant lighting design and Paul Deziel’s fluidly incorporated projections, detailed down to the leaves and the moss on the stones. This is a “Woods” to get lost in.

The Latest
The man keeps trying to make plans to hang out, but his friends want nothing to do with him.
The Hawks weren’t able to translate possession time into much tangible offense during a 3-1 loss Tuesday in Vegas.
A hazardous weather outlook, bringing gusty winds and showers, was in effect in Cook County on Tuesday evening, as well as much of northern Illinois and parts of northwest Indiana through midnight.
Sitting at Nos. 1 and 9, Bears general manager Ryan Poles has a huge opportunity next week.