AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Patrick Klein
Presented by Palo Alto Players
Lucie Stern Theater
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA /(650) 329-0891

Reviewed by Judy Richter

"Into the Woods" is just one of Stephen Sondheim's musical theater masterpieces.

Working with James Lapine, who wrote the book, the brilliant composer-lyricist combined Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack of beanstalk fame, Rapunzel and their associates into one cohesive story.

These characters, plus some additions like a childless baker and his wife, go into the woods to attain certain goals, reach them and supposedly live happily ever after in the first act. Then in the second act, "ever after" turns out to be not so happy. In fact, it's fatal for some characters.

Palo Alto Players is the latest local theater company to undertake the show. It has been preceded by the likes of TheatreWorks (four times), Broadway By the Bay and Foothill Music Theatre.

Unfortunately, the PAP production directed by artistic director Patrick Klein doesn't measure up. At first one might blame the small Lucie Stern Theater stage for its limitations, but TheatreWorks staged all four of its productions there with no sense of limitations.

Hence one must look to Klein's direction along with his artistic team for some of the shortcomings. They start with the murky atmosphere created by lighting designer Carolyn A. Foot and Klein as set designer. The sound design by Grant Huberty can be muddy, and the orchestra directed by Katie Coleman has some sour notes. Some of the hair design by Christine Ormseth, presumably the wigs, is less than praiseworthy, too.

The show has some great songs, such as "Stay With Me," "No One Is Alone" and "Children Will Listen," but the acting and singing are uneven. Still, there are some real standouts, led by Elizabeth Santana as the Baker's Wife and Libby Lloyd as Cinderella.

Intoning "Once upon a time," the Narrator (the imposing Walter M. Mayes, who doubles as the Mysterious Man) opens the show and introduces the main characters. Each one starts off with "I wish," such as Cinderella's wish to go to the festival.

As the show continues, however, several in the cast can't keep up with Sondheim's intricate music and lyrics, thereby making the story sometimes difficult to follow. Someone seeing the show for the first time might wonder why it has been so widely praised.

Apparently lured by the fairy tale aspect, several people brought young children to the first Sunday matinee. This has never been a show for the younger set. Because of its darker aspects, it's better suited for teens and adults.

It runs about two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

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