Review of Into the Woods
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Kim Bromley
Musical Direction by Andrew Klein and Debra Chambliss
Choreography by Alison Peltz
For tickets / schedule :
NTC Playhouse, Novato, CA
Novato Theater Company & Theatre-at-Large
RUN: October 23 – November 22, 2015
RATING: 5 of 5 stars
(October 23, 2015)
A Tony Award winning musical that premiered on Broadway in 1987, Into the Woods was recently adapted to film in 2014. Like Once Upon a Time, the musical is a “what if?” combination of fairy tale characters interacting with each other. It can be enjoyed on a variety of levels, from child-like fun of seeing Cinderella and Rapunzel to deep psychological concerns. The book and lyrics are rich with thought-provoking moments; a person who is nice might not be good, being charming does not mean sincerity. Characters struggle to find their happy endings in Act 1 only to find them destroyed in the post-apocalyptic landscape of Act 2, partly due to their own selfishness. An overall theme of the musical is that after going through nightmares and idealized dreams, perhaps the best place to be is in between.
I grew up with fairy tales like everyone else, but not the Disney ones. I heard the older versions, mostly from Andrew Lang, where characters were rolled down the hill in spiked barrels, toes and fingers were routinely sliced off, and violent endings were the norm. Into the Woods captures the feeling of those tales; the body count is high and Cinderella’s shoes are soaked in blood. The story faces life’s difficulties head on, without sugar coating, like those early tales. Novato Theater Company brings that world into being through David Shirk’s streamlined sets and exquisite costume designs by Janice Deneau and Marie Meier. Attention to detail in this production adds to the ambiance, such as the Steward (Tom Hudgens) giving town crier announcements in place of the usual turn off your cell phones speech.
Music is the primary medium of the story, augmented by strong vocalists in every role. This is a spectacular cast both as a whole and individually embodying their characters. “Stay With Me” is heart-wrenching from Daniela Innocenti Beem (Witch), “On the Steps of the Palace” by Julianne Thompson Bretan (Cinderella) captures the inner turmoil of making a life-changing decision, and Krista Joy Serpa (Little Red Riding Hood) combines comedic skill with sweet singing of an innocent girl trying to find her way. The two princes, Cordell Wesselink (Rapunzel’s Prince) and Anthony Martinez (Cinderella’s Prince) were darkly hilarious in “Agony” and their quests to find love.
Into the Woods considers social responsibility, whether a wish is truly what we want, how to handle sudden loss, what is right and wrong, and discovering who we are as a person through the long tradition of fairy tales. This is a brilliant cast to experience the musical for the first time, or return as an old friend.