At the end of an intriguing season - which brought to the San Francisco Playhouse productions as wide-ranging as The Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Storefront Church, Jerusalem, Bauer and Seminar - Directors Bill English and Susi Damilano top it off with an absolute blast - Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods.
If you’ve ever wondered what would have happened if Cinderella had met Little Red Riding Hood, had come across Rapunzel and the Wicked Witch who was guarding her, bumped into Jack and the Beanstalk, and been faced with not one, but two, Prince Charmings - with a baker and his wife longing for a child, and a mysterious narrator thrown into the mix - this musical will either explain it all, or leave you still wondering, but delighted that you made the effort to find out. One can only imagine what a grand time the show’s creators must have had devising these individual storylines, and weaving them into such an intricate web of marvellous entertainment.
Whether or not you’re familiar with the musical - and whether you love or hate the Brothers Grimm - if you’re a fan of Sondheim (is anybody not?), you’ll be hard pushed not to walk out of the theater with the proverbial smile on your face and a spring in your step. All the Sondheim magic is there - great melodies, lyrics as slick, quick and smart as you’d expect, and humor both nonsensical and dark. It sounds a winning formula, but in the wrong hands it could probably fall flat on its face.
Happily, Susi Damilano (making her directorial debut with a musical), Dave Dobrusky (Music Director) and Kimberly Richards (Choreographer) provide the collective hands which are just perfect for the job, with a production which doesn’t miss a beat, and a cast which quite obviously derived as much enjoyment from their hugely professional performances as did the audience - if the enthusiastic reception was anything to go by.
The momentum is sustained, even during those moments when the mood in the second act is colored with a slightly more sombre tone, and reality kicks in, as the price of the wishes granted has to be paid, and the characters are left wondering whether pursuing their dreams was such a good idea after all - a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’ really.
The Playhouse being too compact to accommodate an orchestra pit, the ensemble which provided the musical backing was heard but not seen, but the contribution of these fine musicians to the success of the production didn’t go unnoticed.
Into the Woods is a splendid evening’s entertainment. The show runs through the summer at the San Francisco Playhouse, until September 6. For tickets and further information, visit www.sfplayhouse.org.