You can usually count on Lyric Stage in Irving to do it up big, and its latest, Into the Woods, is no exception. A large cast, a larger orchestra, larger-than-life sets, and a giant or two all combine into one of the grandest productions of Stephen Sondheim's dark fairytale you're likely to see in Dallas-Fort Worth.
It also highlights everything that was missing from the big-screen adaptation that hit theaters last Christmas. Director Harry Parker, a relative newcomer to Lyric who also chairs the theater department at TCU, has shaped the show into equal parts magical whimsy and realistic cynicism. His sure hand makes it just as easy to get lost in the intertwining stories as it is to see yourself reflected in these fictional, though jarringly human, characters.
Spurred by the wish to have a child, a Baker and his Wife go in search of items commanded by the Witch next door, who years ago placed a curse on the Baker's family tree. As they venture into the terrifying, exciting woods where "anything can happen," the pair encounters Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (of beanstalk fame), Cinderella, and a host of other Brothers Grimm mainstays. Everything seems nicely tied up by the end of Act I, but Act II cleverly continues the stories to show how "ever after" rarely turns out as expected.
Each actor makes a strong showing, from the greedy Little Red (Amy Button) to the high-stepping Prince's Steward (Seth Womack). Lyric favorite Catherine Carpenter Cox seems to enjoy the fuzzy eyebrows and ragged cloaks of the Witch more than she does the glamorous persona she's restored to post-curse, but her delightful cackles are consistent throughout. She keeps the golden-voiced Rapunzel (Kelly Silverthorn) locked in a tower, an irresistible invitation to one ardent prince (Anthony Fortino).
Andy Baldwin and Mary Gilbreath Grim anchor the show as the storybook couple longing to procreate, characters that were invented by Sondheim and book writer James Lapine. Mary McElree is equally down to earth as Cinderella, who realizes quickly that palace life isn't all she dreamed. As her persistent prince, Christopher J. Deaton is ardent and haughty, but he truly shines when staving off his carnal desires in his other role as the Wolf.
Kyle Montgomery is the jewel of an already sparkling show, playing Jack as an overgrown child who's unprepared for the harsh realities of the world.
Three hours long but packed with musical theater winners such as "No One Is Alone" and "Children Will Listen," Into the Woods sounds even more majestic under the baton of Jay Dias. The pace seems a bit slow at times, perhaps to better enunciate each of Sondheim's tongue-twisting lyrics, but in this case it's a joy to spend a little more time in these woods.
Into the Woods plays at Carpenter Performance Hall in the Irving Arts Center through September 13.