Reviewed by Judy Richter
Broadway By the Bay has successfully met the challenge of producing a Stephen Sondheim musical for the first time in a long time. It's "Into the Woods," the master composer-lyricist's clever collaboration with librettist James Lapine. They weave together four fairy tales -- Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel -- then throw in some new characters, namely a witch, a narrator, and a baker and his wife. Even Snow White and Sleeping Beauty become involved, at least peripherally.
In the first act, several characters have to venture into the woods and overcome obstacles to achieve their goals. Once they've achieved those goals, they can live happily ever after -- at least until the end of the first act. The second act turns darker as the characters cope with wishes that have come true and with new challenges, dangerous challenges. During the entire process, much self-discovery takes place. It's this aspect of the show -- along with Sondheim's wonderfully intricate lyrics -- that makes it more suitable for teenagers and adults than for young children. Several members of the younger set were seated near me on a Saturday night and just couldn't sit still. One considerate family took their restless child home at intermission.
But for the older set, especially Sondheim admirers, BBB's production moves brightly along, thanks to Brooke Knight's canny direction and a top-flight cast, especially Mindy Lym as Cinderella, Linda Piccone as Jack's long-suffering mother, Paul Araquistain as the Baker, Lee Ann Payne as the Baker's Wife, Alanna Pinell as the bratty Little Red Riding Hood, David Sattler as the lecherous Wolf and Cinderella's vain prince, and Elise Marie Cordle, occasionally channeling Bernadette Peters, as the Witch. Also noteworthy are Marc Jacobs as the Narrator and Mysterious Man, Nick Balian as the dunderheaded Jack and Evan Boomer as Rapunzel's Prince.
Rick Reynolds expertly guides the orchestra through Sondheim's complex score, but some of his tempos are just a bit too fast for the singers to clearly enunciate the lyrics with their puns, rhymes, alliteration and other literary devices. The women are sometimes undermined by Bill Carrico's sound design, which makes some of them sound shrill. Or it just might be the less than perfect sound system at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center. It's a cavernous space, so both sound quality and sometimes the sense of intimacy can suffer.
The show isn't heavy on dancing, but Robyn Tribuzi's choreography is a plus, as is Chad Bonaker's lighting. The set is from Starlight Theatre Company. The costumes come from The Theatre Company.
Overall, this is a successful venture that can make one hope for more Sondheim from BBB in the future.