BWW Reviews: Wishes Come True in 3-D Theatricals' INTO THE WOODS
Everything will work out fine in the end."
Well, not always.
As children, our parents expose us to lesson-laden fairy tales that carry us to fantastical far away places where good (more often than not) triumphs over evil. Case closed. But what happens after happily ever after? And are there consequences to these choices and outcomes, even in such a make-believe world?
Bursting with magic, wit and whimsy, INTO THE WOODS---the sprightly Tony Award-winning musical that features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine---tries to answer these questions by upending traditional fairy tales and putting an extra spotlight on the underlaying subtext of these stories, and how they, too, have morality-questioning lessons to espouse when brought to the surface.
Locally, a new, colorful regional production of this 1986 stage musical produced by OC's Ovation Award-winning 3-D Theatricals is currently on stage at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, CA through May 18.
A sardonic, often funny, metaphor-heavy dark musical comedy disguised as a family-friendly play, INTO THE WOODS cleverly mashes up several fairy tales together that include Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Ridinghood (with cameos from Sleeping Beauty, the Three Little Pigs, and Snow White). The tales---and the infamous characters within them---intermingle and cross paths, with each significantly affecting the others.
At its core, the more familiar childhood stories are all intersected by the musical's lone original story, which finds a timid Baker (the perfectly fidgetyJeff Skowron) and his self-empowered wife (the brilliant Viva Carr) on a desperate quest to break a long-standing curse enacted by their next-door neighbor, an old, ugly witch (ham-tastic gem Bets Malone) hell-bent on revenge.
When the musical begins, an elderly gentleman steps forward and reveals himself to be the narrator (David Allen Jones) using the familiar "once upon a time..." refrain. Mostly impartial but not, he introduces the audience to three households, all of which reveal people with wishes: in one home, Cinderella (the glowing Jeanette Dawson), dressed in rags, wishes to go to the King's royal festival (much to the teasing of her stepmother and stepsisters); in another, young simple-minded Jack (the charming Jordan Lamoureux) wishes his emaciated cow pal Milky White would produce milk for him and his widowed mother (Tracy Rowe Mutz); and finally, in the last house, the Baker and his Wife wishes nothing more than to have a child.
Soon, Little Red Ridinghood (Julie Morgentaler) arrives at the Baker's home to get bread and other pastries to take to her grandmother's house. Her visit is short-lived though, thanks to her run-in with a hungry Wolf (Tim Martin Gleason).Meanwhile, it is later revealed that the witch had placed the infertility curse on the entire Baker family line after she catches the Baker's father in her garden stealing her "magic" beans. Not only that, the witch also kidnapped the Baker's father's newborn baby---whom she locked away high up in a tower with only her long golden hair as a way up. She, of course, would later grow up to be Rapunzel (Christanna Rowader), who is---spoiler alert---also the witch's daughter!
Desperate and willing to bargain for their cause, the infertile couple agrees to locate four specific ingredients for a potion the witch is brewing: "a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold." If the couple finds what the witch needs by the stroke of Midnight in three days' time, she will break the curse, thus securing them a child in their future. Easy enough, right---especially since all four of these items have already passed us by?
Thus begins everyone's quest into the scary, uncharted woods: for Cinderella, it is to visit her dead mother's grave site (where her mom's spirit dispenses esteem-boosting advice and a shiny, fabulous frock for the ball); for Jack, it is to reluctantly go to the market to sell off his pal Milky White so his family can eat; for Little Red it is to bring snacks to her grandmother (that is, if she can contain herself from pigging out on the goodies herself); and, of course, for the Baker (and, unbeknownst to him, his wife) venture out in search of the ingredients.
Along the way, we also meet a pair of blowhard brother Princes (scene-stealers Gleason, in his second role as Cinderella's Prince, and Cameron Sczempka as Rapunzel's Prince) who wax poetic on the unbearable struggles to find love, as well as a disheveled, mysterious old man (Jones, in his second role) who seems to pop in and out of any given situation to cause a bit of havoc---and perhaps know more than he's letting on.
Much like the impressively-choreographed puzzle pieces that make up Tom Buderwitz's eye-catching, ever-morphing set, every character in the musical criss-crosses the woods to interact with one another like a well-planned dance, not only to push the cause-and-effect idea but also to reiterate how mutually-beneficial each character is with one another, particularly in their own individual quests. In this case, it does take a village, especially when traversing through the rough patches of the woods alone. (After all, "No One Is Alone"...)
As expected, the neat-and-tidy happy endings are on the horizon. But the twist in these fairy tales? Well, though they were there in these stories all along, the not-so-kosher motivations for their "good" deeds get closer examinations---and reveal some iffy behavior.
Read between the lines and one may discover that nothing is truly black and white, good and evil, or wrong or right. Even heroic actions---however well-intentioned---may have unexpectedly dire repercussions for everyone these actions affect. But how far must one go in order to see a wish fulfilled? Is it acceptable to sacrifice morality and ethics for the sake of this so-called "greater good?" Well, apparently for these characters, the proverbial ends definitely justify the means.
For the Baker's wife, for example, being slightly dishonest is okay in order to procure goods from others.
"What's important is who needs them more!" she justifies.
Nice logic, there, lady (I judged, yet I went ahead and laughed).
Every once in a while, all the characters even go so far as to step forward to deliver a self-excusing bit of fairy tale wisdom directly to the audience.
While the happily ever afters punctuate the end of the first act, the second act explores what happens once these fairy tale books are closed and placed back on the shelf, calling to mind that old adage that simply states... "be careful what you wish for." Achieving their wishes, apparently, has its drawbacks.Directed by 3-DT co-founder TJ Dawson, this entertainingly robust regional revival of INTO THE WOODS is indeed an admirable production, even with its share of technical flubs, odd musical and lighting cues, and chaotic moments.
The theater's sound system mix is once again the show's most frustrating obstacle to overcome, rendering many of Sondheim's rapid-fire lyrics all but decipherable as the too-loud (albeit hard-working) orchestra drowns out the characters' voices. It's a shame, too, because many of the show's clever lines and lyrics seem wastefully thrown away.
Fortunately, though, when the jokes and sight gags do land, they're riotous, comic gems.
The company, unsurprisingly, provides many impressive performances, highlighted by great turns by Malone, Carr, Skowron, Lamoureux, and the enjoyable duo of Gleason and Sczempka in "Agony"---which, for me personally, should have been the comic level that every funny moment should have strived to reach during the musical's entirety. Extra kudos, by the way, for casting Sally Struthers as the voice of the menacing, never-seen Giant. The rest of the ensemble cast are fairly appealing, but perhaps needed an extra jolt (the silliness of this Sondheim/Lapine musical feels as though this production needed to be more over-the-top than it was during the show's Press Opening Night performance).
But for the most part, 3-DT's INTO THE WOODS is able to convey much of Sondheim and Lapine's satirical intentions, peppering the production with enjoyable humor, thought-provoking pathos, and witty commentary to make it certainly worthy of venturing deep into the forest.
Just be wary of strangers with beans. Or wolves with grandma breath.
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Photos of 3-D Theatricals' presentation of INTO THE WOODS by Isaac James Creative. From top to bottom: The Baker (Jeff Skowron) and his wife (Viva Carr) wish to have a child; Jack (David Lamoureux) has seen giants in the sky; Cinderella (Jeanette Dawson) glams up for the King's Festival; Brotherly Princes (Tim Martin Gleason & Cameron Sczempka) lament on their agony; the witch (Bets Malone) tries to plead with Rapunzel (Christanna Rowader).
Performances of 3-D Theatricals' INTO THE WOODS continue at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton through May 18, 2014. Shows are scheduled Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm.
For tickets or more information, call 714-589-2770 or visit www.3DTshows.com.