FAIRY TALES COME TO LIFE IN STEPHEN SONDHEIM’S “INTO THE WOODS”
Fairy Tales Come to Life in Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”
Ray of Life Company since 2000 has been providing high-quality productions and Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” is no exception. This is my eleventh viewing of one Sondheim’s best musicals where fairy tales come to life. I first saw the inventive musical on September 29, 1987 at the Martin Beck Theatre with Bernadette Peters’ playing the witch. I saw two major productions in London one starring Julia MacKenzie playing the witch plus the 10th Anniversary reunion at the Broadway Theatre in 1997 with Ms. Peters repeating the role. There were two very fine productions in Los Angeles plus two good professional productions here in San Francisco. My last encounter was the recent revival with Vanessa Williams playing the witch and Gregg Edelman as one of the princes.
Ray of Light has shown great courage in presenting this complex and difficult musical. “The difficulty of Sondheim’s music and lyrics serves as a real lesson for anyone who had to perform this work” so said Luke Wrobel, the artistic director of the South Coast Rep. I am incline to agree with director since the singers and actors must focus most of their attentions on the lyrics and complicated music. There must be split-second timing on the part of the actors to get this musical across.
Director Eliza Leoni has assembled an enthusiastic cast to portray the story book characters in this exuberant musical. Ray of Light Theatre’s high energy large ensemble transports zest and an infectious springy energy in this clever interweaving of plots taken from some of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Leoni has managed to harness the talent and creativity of many of the singers/actors. That said there were a few ragged moments such as when the cast give out their one line pieces of wisdom in several segments. They were not clear in presenting these wonderful little gems by book writer James Lapine.
Young Kyle Stoner as young Jack with the magic beans has an irrepressible singing voice and is full of youthful energy. He delivers the melodious “Giants in the Sky” with a rich voice that still has a young person’s genuineness that is just right for the part. Michelle Jasso is beguiling as the Witch. Her presentations of “Lament” and “Last Midnight” are chilling. She shows the heart of a woman who still wants love from the child she stole. She shrieked and hobbled across the stage convincingly.
David Naugton and Ted Zoldan as the princes have a grand time with vibrant voices singing “Agony”. David Naugton as the prancing Cinderella’s Prince who exhibits his unthinking selfishness when he says “I was raised to be charming, not sincere” His counterpart Ted Zoldan playing Rapunzel’s Prince is perfect for the role. Allison Meneley as Little Red Riding Hood has an effervescent voice that belts out “I Know Things Now”. She reminds me of a young Ethel Merman. Outstanding is John Flaw as the Wolf. He has a powerful voice belting out “Hello, Little Girl”. Austin Ferris is first-rate as The Baker and his duets with Marisa Cozart as his wife are magical singing “Maybe they’re Magic”. Ms. Cozart is also wonderful singing “Moments in the Woods”.
Lauren Rosi excels as Jack’s mother, Courtney Merrell as Cinderella provides humor and charisma with her polished vocal cords. Her voice adds great clarity to Cinderella’s emotional perplexity in “On the Steps of the Palace. Derek Travis Collard who plays both the narrator and the mysterious man is excellent with a great theatrical voice. Nikki Arias as Cinderella’s step mother, Danielle Dipaola as Florinda/Sleeping Beauty, Caitlin O’Leary as Lucinda/Snow White, Bill Tankovich as Cinderella’s father, Angela Jarosz, Melissa Reinerton and Jerry A. Deal shine in their respective roles.
David Moschler terrific orchestra consisted of seven members never overwhelmes the singers. The group gave splendid accompaniment to Sondheim’s tricky melodies. Scenic designer Annie Dauber has design a spare, youthful and appealing set for the small stage. Her dark woods echo the German sets that one would see in German movies of the 20’s. Cathie Anderson’s multicolored lights glow on the rustic forest made up of folkloric trees. The stage is divided in three parts, A wooden baker rack at one end that unassumingly suggest the home of the Baker, a stuff dairy cow and milking bench in the center for Jack’s home and a primitive roasting pit on the other side that belongs to Cinderella.
“Into the Woods” plays through June 29th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-690-7658 or on line at www.rayoflighttheatre.com. Coming in October Ray of Light will present the musical “Carrie” at the Victoria Theatre