Into the Woods at Shakespeare in the Park

Last night Matt and I saw the Shakespeare in the Park production of Into the Woods in Central Park. Free tickets are distributed at 1:00 p.m., but because they only give out a limited number and it’s very popular, you really have to start lining up in the park by 6:00 a.m. to guarantee you’ll get tickets. You might be OK if you get there at 6:30, but if you get there at 7:00 you’ll most likely be too late, because the line will already be too long. (Each person in line can get 1 or 2 tickets until they run out.)

So yesterday Matt and I took the day off from work, dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:25 in the morning, got ourselves together, headed out the door, hailed a cab, and got to Central Park a few minutes before 6:00. The park actually doesn’t open until 6, so we had to line up at the entrance to the park at West 81st Street and Central Park West. There were already several dozen people ahead of us when we got there. A Public Theater staffer watched over things, explained some of the rules (such as: you can’t switch off with someone else in line), and said that those of us already in line would definitely be able to get tickets. Whew.

At around 6:00 a.m., the park opened, and the staffer led the line a little ways through the park and over to the Delacorte Theater. We then plopped down our stuff in line along a path leading up to the box office window and settled in for a seven-hour wait.

The seven hours actually went by incredibly fast. We brought chairs, suntan lotion, sunglasses, snacks, and stuff to pass the time. I had magazines, my Kindle, my iPad (loaded with a couple of movies), my iPhone, earphones, and a book of puzzles. It was like preparing for an airplane trip, but with 3G access. (Alas, no WiFi in the park.)

I wish I’d brought a hoodie, because for the first two or three hours I was surprisingly chilly in shorts and a t-shirt. It was already light out at 6:00, but it took a few hours for the sun to rise high enough to start warming things up. We lucked out with good weather; it wasn’t muggy or too hot.

There are restrooms near the box office, as well as a concession window that sells food and drinks. There’s also a guy passing out menus from a nearby deli: you can place orders, and they’ll deliver to you in line. People don’t mind if you leave the line for a few minutes at a time to use the bathroom, buy some food, or take a quick walk up and down the line. I took a few short strolls — I counted about 100 people ahead of us, and at about 10 a.m., I walked in the other direction and counted about 250 people snaking away behind us, most of whom would not get tickets.

The whole thing was very civilized. It’s nice sitting in the park under a canopy of trees, watching runners and bikers and dog-walkers.

The time flew by, and then at 12:45 we were told to start gathering up our stuff and begin compacting the line. At about 1:00, they started giving out tickets. When you get to the front, you just tell the guy whether you want 1 or 2 tickets per person, and he hands you some tickets.

Matt and I got four tickets, because my parents would be joining us. We were given Section O, Row Q, seats 512-515, which, according to the seating chart, were all the way on the end of a row. Given how early we got in line, we were a bit bummed not to get better seats, but we realized most of the good seats go to donors. And after all, the tickets were free. Later in the day I did a Twitter search and saw that some people in line got seats a bit closer to the center, although I didn’t see any that got much closer to the stage.

We went home and napped a bit, and then a few hours later we headed back to the park and met up with my parents. Outside the theater we saw Wesley Taylor (best known for Smash), and while sitting in our seats I saw Michael Urie in the audience. Apparently Tom Hanks was also there last night, and so was Jennifer Damiano.

Our seats turned out to be not bad at all. It’s a thrust stage, not a proscenium, so we could pretty much see everything. We did have a little trouble seeing the (spoiler alert!) giant at one point, but we could see it fine at another point.

It was only the second preview, so there are still some kinks to be worked out — the show dragged at times and ended after 11:00, but that will probably improve as the cast finds its groove. For me, the standouts were Jessie Mueller as Cinderella, Sarah Stiles as Little Red Riding Hood, Gideon Glick as Jack, and Ivan Hernandez and Cooper Grodin as the two princes. Amy Adams was surprisingly good as the Baker’s Wife for someone who is not normally a stage actress, and she did a particularly nice job with “Moments in the Woods.” Donna Murphy, of course, did a great, comical job as the Witch. And it was wonderful to see Chip Zien play the Mysterious Man, since he played the Baker in the original 1987 production (which my parents saw without me). And kudos to young Jack Broderick, who plays the Narrator.

There’s something special about seeing Into the Woods performed outdoors, with real trees in the background, especially as the sun goes down and the moon comes out. (Every so often I looked up and noticed that the moon had moved. It sure travels fast!) We weren’t sure we wanted to get up at the crack of dawn and wait in the park for seven hours, but I’m glad we did it.

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