TIMES OF SAN DIEGO
Every one of us, at one time or another, has to go through a Dark Night of the Soul, after which, we hope, we’ll be “out of the woods.”
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine took us “Into the Woods” nearly 30 years ago, when their fanciful, incisive musical debuted at the Old Globe. A year later, in 1987, it opened on Broadway and garnered ten Tony Award nominations and three wins, including Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical.
Now, the show is back at the Globe, simplified and deconstructed, in a delightful production by New York’s Fiasco Theatre, which premiered at the McCarter Theatre in New Jersey last year.
With mostly piano accompaniment (by stellar musician and active participant Matt Castle at the baby grand), the entire effort takes place inside a piano. It’s all about taking things apart and putting them back together.
The imaginative set (Derek McClane ) features an upstage of crisscrossed ‘strings’ that double as trees and brush in the forest. The side ‘walls’ are composed of giant airy sculptures of stacked piano-shaped cutouts.
The songs, featuring Sondheim’s brilliant, insightful lyrics, are paramount here. But the magic of storytelling – which is, after all, what fairy tales are all about – reigns supreme.
The humor and whimsy of the piece are enhanced, the re-examination of famous fairy tales and the exploration of what happens after ‘happily ever after.’ But the disturbing and frightening exploits and deep lessons of the narratives are by no means lost in this ingenious re-conception of a show that’s often taken too seriously and staged too reverently.
In the much-lauded style of John Doyle (in productions of “Sweeney Todd,” and others), the performers are provide the musical soundscape. One plays the bassoon, several the guitar . Another, a few woodwinds. This conceit is never showy; it’s subtly in the shadows, and completely organic to the musical and the modus operandi of the company.
True, some voices in the 10-member ensemble are stronger than others. Co-director Ben Steinfeld as the Baker, Jessie Austrian as his wife, and Emily Young as Little Red Ridinghood and Rapunzel, are vocal standouts. Co-director Noah Brody and Andy Grotelueschen are the comic gems, as those nasty Princes (“I was raised to be charming, not sincere”), and the nastier stepsisters of Cinderella. Grotelueschen is clearly the audience favorite as a hilarious Milky White, by far the most amusing incarnation of the cow belonging to dim-witted but good-hearted Jack (the Beanstalk Boy). This Milky plays the (cow )bell , has funny facial expressions; and presents a character as fully-formed as any other.
There’s a gleeful sense of fun throughout, with so many inventive directorial touches: slips of paper for the birds who talk to Cinderella, a rod of curtains in front of two men as the dresses of the Stepsisters; shadow play for the Giant, a quick and creative mask-and-costume change for the Witch. The art of telling tales trumps all. But we still get all the intended messages and warnings: “Children Must Listen,” “There are Giants in the Sky,” “Nice is different than good” and of course, “No One is Alone.”
Dark as the second act becomes (and sometimes convoluted, with the Witch and the Giant and the curse and the deaths, and families destroyed and reconstituted in different configurations), the end remains upbeat. If not eternally happy, at least, the characters are more aware and more connected. Together, we walk out thinking, we can fend off all kinds of evil – of the witchy, or even the political, kind.
“Into the Woods” runs through August 10 ,in the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park
Performances are Tuesday-Wednesday at 7pm, Thursday-Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 7pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. There’s a special Autism-Friendly performance on Saturday 8/9 at 2pm
Running Time: 2 hrs , 45 min.
Tickets (starting at $29) are at 619-23-GLOBE (234-5623) ; www.theoldglobe.org
©2014 PAT LAUNER