San Diego, CA--- The very first time I saw the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical “Into The Woods” was at the Old Globe Theatre in 1986 where it debuted and ran for fifty performances. It subsequently went on to Broadway in 1987 where it won Tony’s for Best Score (music and lyrics by Sondheim), Best Book (James Lapine) and Joanna Gleason won the Tony for Best Actress.
The first act is a charming children’s story inspired by Bruno Bettleheim’s 1976 book, “The Uses of Enchantment” with several of the Brothers Grim fairy tales including ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Rapunzel’ woven together. Thrown in for good luck and to make the story more interesting are the Baker and his barren wife. “Prologue: Into The Woods”.
The second act is a massive disaster for the characters when their wishes go beyond the ‘happy ever after’ ending, picking up after the death of the Giant and the demands of his vengeful wife. Who knew? (“Giants In The Sky”). The place of the happily ever after becomes the place of reality, oft times judgement for our storybook characters. They forgot about the consequences they might have to face in their quest for happiness.
By now, ever more sophisticated and looking for change, audiences are rather prepared for an anything goes approach. Most, I’m willing to suggest have seen at least one version of ‘Woods’, it’s been around just that long.
For those of us though seeing it on opening night at its inception we were entranced by the first act. After intermission and we were still drooling over what we had seen, we returned to our seats to find a deconstruction of Act I. Now it was no longer child’s play.
When it moved to Broadway with most of the original cast, new songs were added as was Bernadette Peters as the Witch. At the London Premiere “Our little World” was also added. Throughout the years it has seen subtle changes but Fiasco Theatre Company has made the biggest leap.
Now it’s out with the old and in with the new. This new production currently on stage at the Old Globe through Aug. 10th is the reimaged vision by Fiasco Theatre Center directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfield in a production that originated at the McCarter Center.
Out is any traditional costuming; in is whatever basic thrift shop piece fit the bill, and then some with accruement for accent. (Whitney Locher).
Out is traditional casting; in is having an ensemble take on the roles of several characters some playing various musical instruments, having men dress like women while two ride broomstick hobbyhorses. Milky White (the cow) is a person with a bell around his neck. (Andy Grotelueschen.) He also plays Florinda, Rapunzel’s Prince.)
Out are any traditional set designs; in are scattered pieces of furniture, a ladder, a chair, nine chandeliers hang from the ceiling, a complicated rope design at the back of the stage that may or may not represent instrument strings (since any similarity between the traditional and this musical are missing), a collage of harp/piano looking instruments lining the side walls as far as the eye can see, a dress form and various sized boxes used on demand. (Derek McLane)
Out is an orchestra; in is an antique piano perched in the middle of the stage, Matt Castle delivers the goods as he plays the Sondheim themes. Some unconventional instruments are scratched, pounded and or played; a guitar a cello, drum and violin were the most recognizable. (Darron West designed the sound and Matt Castle and Frank Galgano, the orchestrations).
Out is charm and enchantment; in is campy, trendy or contemporary (your choice) and sometimes trending toward farce. This contemporary and adult story with a talented (but oft time non singing) cast of 10 takes us on a very different journey ‘into the woods’ and that includes a shadow box reenactment of the wolf, (Noah Broody holding a stuffed wolves’ head mounted on a board) as in “Little Red Riding Hood” eating Grandmother, as in "To Grandmother's House We Go". (Tim Cryan is responsible for the lighting)
Out is acting a story; in is storytelling in its truest form. For The Fiasco Theatre Company, this is its essence.
In this new incarnation of the characters; Cinderella and her Granny (Claire Karpen), Rapunzel and Little red Riding Hood (Emily Young), Jack (Patrick Multryan), The Bakers Wife (Jessie Austrian), The Baker (Ben Steinfield) The Wolf, Lucinda and Cinderella’s Prince (Noah Brody), her stepmother and Jacks mother (Liz Hayes) and the Witch (Allison Cimmet) all step out of their ‘fairy book’ personalities and now become their contemporary alter egos as they tell their stories into the woods and back.
Some of the fun stuff that takes attention away from the all the (back) stage activities and piecemeal costumes come when both Brody and Grotelueschen sing “Agony” (at least twice), and when they both come clopping on to the stage on their stick horses, with Grotelueschen galloping sideways, or when he tries to swallow the ingredients for milk to give to the witch to break the curse of the childless Baker and his wife. He is a hoot also as Jack is about to sell him for money for food. His facial expressions are priceless.
Both Austrian and Steinfeld show off their talent as the Baker and his wife especially when they are trying to decide who makes a better parent after finally giving birth to a son in “It Takes Two” and “No One Is Alone”. Emily Young is perfect as a now Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood, Patrick Mulryan excels as Jack and Ben Steinfield is the glue that holds the show together, ensemble or not.
For another way to enjoy this “Into The Woods”, an open mind and one that is ready to accept change is drastically needed. This reviewer resists change as much as possible. While I admire Fiasco for its forward thinking and adult take on the subject, I’ll let children be children (even when they don’t listen) and when I need an adult fix I’ll stick with Sondheim’s “Passion”, or heaven help me “Sweeny Todd”.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Aug. 10th
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Production Type: Musical
Where: Balboa Park, 1363 Old Globe Way.
Ticket Prices: Start @ $29.00
Venue: Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage