Review of Into the Woods
By Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Marty Pistone
Musical Direction by Lynne Morrow
For tickets / schedule :
Evert B. Person Theatre, Sonoma State University
Department of Theatre Arts & Dance

RUN: February 4 – 14, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

(February 5, 2016)

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Into the Woods premiered on Broadway in 1987, and has experienced a recent resurge of popularity due to the 2014 film adaptation. Before being relegated to the nursery during the Victorian era, fairy stories were the realm of adults seeking to understand life through a different lens. Perspectives can change “in the woods” through the power of storytelling. Characters experience real challenges that shake their world, and lash out in violence or through comforting each other; making constant re-evaluations that allow the audience to consider with them.

Wishes are compared to children; they do not always listen, and what is wished for might not be that which is best or truly wanted. Cinderella’s mother tree asks what she truly wants, but it is not until the tree is crushed that Cinderella understands that perhaps an idle wish to go to the ball was not her heart’s desire. Lyrics and music weave through the story—jabbing exchanged barbs, mingling in perfect harmony, or layering each other in shared distress. The orchestra captures the timing and magical quality of the music with alacrity and are a joy to experience.

Setting is crucial to a magical kingdom, and set designer Patrick Szczotka creates a constantly shifting forest scene with touches of jungle quality mixed with traditional triptych presentation of cottages for the openings. He is supported by lighting designer Theo Bridant, whose stunning gradients haunt the backdrop with the intelligence of a character in itself. His work in the Witch’s Last Midnight is thrilling. Allie Evans as the Witch dominates the stage, enthralling any who come near with terrifying sensuality, yet her heart breaks with the loss of her daughter. Evans uses costume designer Carmella Nohai’s cape in sweeping grandeur, adding a dash of color and movement to the neutral toned sets.

Most of the cast are strong singers, particularly Emily Thomason as Cinderella, who has a luminous quality. You can imagine her as a princess stepping out of the animation into flesh and bone. This production opted for a rather cartoonish portrayal of Into the Woods, pushing boundaries of how far to stretch farce while retaining the important messages of the story, evident in the princes. Rather than hiding their licentious personalities under a mask of beauty, they do not bother to hide who they are, expecting the world to love them for the sake of a title.

Natasha Potts - Baker's Wife; Brett Mollard - Baker; and Allie Evans - Witch

Photo by David Papas

Holding the disparate characters together is the Baker (Brett Mollard) and the Baker’s Wife (Natasha Potts). Their struggle to have a family first breaks them apart, then brings them together. Mollard is captivating as his character faces loss and heroism, grumbling through life with cranky tolerance.

While there is room for improvement, such as the directing choices to the ending of Rapunzel’s story, overall this was a successful staging of Into the Woods. It is a complex, difficult piece to create, and SSU’s production pulled out all the stops to accomplish it. For an evening of belly laughs and the challenge of self examination, enter the woods, if you dare. Sonoma State University’s Into the Woods is a vibrant production filled with thrills and high jinks.