AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Robert Kelley
Presented by TheatreWorks
At the Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road
Palo Alto, CA / (650) 903-6000

Reviewed by Judy Richter

There's an old saying that the third time's the charm, but in the case of TheatreWorks and "Into the Woods," so's the fourth time. After first presenting the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical in 1990, TheatreWorks revived it in 1992 and 1994. This time the company has a charming new production with a fairy-tale set by J.B. Wilson, costumes by Jill C. Bowers, lighting by Steven B. Mannshardt and sound by Cliff Caruthers. As in the past three productions, the director is artistic director Robert Kelley, who has such an affinity for Sondheim.

Winner of numerous Tony Awards after its premiere in 1987, "Into the Woods" also won the Tony for best musical revival in 2002. It's a work of genius, both musically and dramatically, blending a number of fairy tales in the first act, then looking at what happens to the characters during "Ever After" in second act. It shows people learning important lessons as they go "Into the Woods" to achieve their goals. Moreover, it's about families, especially parents and children, making it a touching gift for the holidays.

The show is introduced by the Narrator (Francis Jue) as the characters appear: Little Red Ridinghood (Courtney Stokes); Cinderella (Cristin Boyle), her cruel Stepmother (Suzanne Grodner) and thoughtless Stepsisters (Alison Ewing as Florinda and C. Kelly Wright as Lucinda); the childless Baker (Jackson Davis) and the Baker's Wife (Christiane Noll); Jack (Robert Brewer) of beanstalk fame; and Rapunzel (Tielle Baker). The characters in their various stories are played by Maureen McVerry as Jack's Mother, James Monroe Iglehart as the Wolf, Patrick Leveque as Rapunzel's Prince and Michael Hunsaker as Cinderella's Prince. And of course there has to be a Witch (Thursday Farrar).

Their stories -- told through Sondheim's brilliant music and lyrics and Lapine's intelligent book -- unfold and intertwine delightfully under Kelley's direction, aided by Jue's choreography and William Liberatore's musical direction. The cast is equal to the task, with special nods to Jue as the gracious narrator, Davis returning as the Baker, Noll as the Baker's Wife, Boyle as Cinderella and McVerry as Jack's exasperated mother. Farrar as the Witch has some obvious register breaks in her main songs, "Stay With Me," "Lament (Children Won't Listen) " and "Last Midnight."

Even though "Into the Woods" has fairy tales as its basis, it's too complex and sophisticated for the younger set. But for teens and adults, it's a wonderfully witty, tuneful, thought-provoking and entertaining show. The fifth time could be a charm for TheatreWorks, too.

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