Novelist Thomas Wolfe’s famous admonition of one “not being able to go home again” (he was speaking literarily and metaphorically) doesn’t hold up when it comes to the current production “Into the Woods” now on the stage at The Old Globe’s Donald and Darlene Shiley Theatre.
One, can indeed go “home again” as the venerable San Diego theatrical landmark, The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park, has proven time and time again. The magic that took place at the Globe in 1986 that sent the production to Broadway has come full circle. Almost twenty-eight years later, the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine blockbuster Broadway smash hit musical returns to its birthplace – The Old Globe.
The musical has seen many script versions and hundreds of stagings by theatres all over the world in last twenty-eight years. It’s considered to be one of the greatest musicals of all time. “Into the Woods” 2014 version, is once again a reimagined, inventive and energetic co-production this time partnered with the critically acclaimed Fiasco Theatre that originated at the McCarter Theatre Center. Fiasco is an ensemble-driven acting company that usually produces Shakespearean productions but was drawn to Sondheim for the sheer genius of how he crafts his musicals and lyrics – much like the Bard did in the writing of his plays.
Everybody loves a story, and fairy tales are especially good source material for musicals. Most stories begin with “Once upon a time” and end with “and they all lived happily ever after”. In Sondheim and Lapine’s world that’s just the end of Act One. The audience has identified the characters in Act One from a half-dozen of the best loved fairy tales that have been stitched together into a narrative text that is brilliantly complemented by the music and lyrics of Sondheim. In this show the characters have to be careful for what they ask because in Act Two, they may just get those wishes fulfilled and not like the results.
The Fiasco Theatre Company of ten ensemble players perform four familiar Grimm Bothers fairy tales to form the backbone of the production: “Jack and the Beanstalk”; “Little Red Riding Hood”; “Rapunzel”; and “Cinderella” are the most familiar. As a way stringing all of the disparate story elements together, a fifth tale of a baker and his wife who long to become parents, was written by Sondheim and woven into the plot in order to make it all work.
Fiasco’s take on the 1986 story is to bare-bones the 2014 version with s spare set design and technical elements; allowing the energy and inventiveness of the actors to perform the heavy lifting and let the performances carry the day. It was a wise decision. The production under the deft co-direction of Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld (who also play multiple characters) is fresh and creative and from the look of their production, is one the actors truly seem to enjoy performing. That kind of feel and energy carries right over the footlights into the audience and is priceless from the producer’s point-of-view. Chalk up another winning production and another notch on Artistic Director Barry Edelstein’s theatrical holster for the 2014/2015 Season.
The acting company performers also are musicians, dancers, and singers, who if required could probably build, paint and decorate the set and they include: Jessie Austrian as the baker’s wife; Noah Brody as Lucinda, Wolf, and Cinderella’s Prince; Alison Cimmet as the Witch; Paul L. Coffey as the Mysterious Man; Andy Grotelueschen as Milky White, Florinda, and Rapunzel’s Prince; Liz Hayes as Cinderella’s Stepmother and Jack’s Mother; Claire Karpen as Cinderella and Granny; Patrick Mulryan as Jack and Steward; Ben Steinfeld as The Baker and Emily Young as Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel.
A great deal of credit for the success of the performances surely must go to Matt Castle, the on stage performance pianist and music and orchestrations director. He keeps everyone one on-point when it comes everything musical. Together they are a dynamite ensemble team, and lucky for us, are selfless to a fault. Their performances are nothing short of an exhilarating display of individual brilliance within a team format.
The technical team is top tier as well. The set design by Derek McLane, Lighting design by Tim Cryan, with sound by Darron L. West and costumes design by Whitney Locher perfectly match the vision of co-directors Brody and Steinfeld. This “Into the Woods” production is appropriate for all ages. Eight-year old Sarah Shapiro sat next me enthralled with the story unfolding on the stage. Her parents told me how much she loved it. I asked her which one was her favorite character. “All of them” she smiled. A born diplomat, no question about it.
“Into the Woods” runs through August 10, 2014. Don’t Miss it!