LOS ANGELES-Any musical production that has the name Stephen Sondheim attached to it is usually a quality product, and that’s just what Tony-Award-winning Into the Woods was on opening night at the Ahmanson Theatre.
With music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by James Lapine, the Fiasco Theater Company put an interesting stamp on this performance. They reinterpreted it with imagination and joy and made the familiar new again.
They’re characters everyone knows from fairy tales: Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk. It’s a musical mash-up of these tales woven together in unexpected ways.
Complications arise when the characters from these stories interact with one another as they travel into the woods to pursue their wishes.
And added to the mix are two new fairy tale characters that Lapine added to the show — The Baker and The Baker’s Wife. They want to conceive a child, but can only do so if they bring back four things for the Witch, who cast a spell on The Baker’s father many years ago, and this is why they cannot have any children.
They must bring back the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold, all before midnight in three days’ time.
They both go into the woods on a quest for these items, where they encounter all the other fairy tale characters.
The Fiasco Theater team was very creative. Piano strings represent the trees in the woods, plain pieces of paper become bird puppets, and a pair of decorative curtains bring to life Cinderella’s stepsisters. The 11 actors also played the instruments on stage.
The show covers multiple themes: growing up, parents and children, accepting responsibility, morality, and wish fulfillment and its consequences.
The characters all desire something they believe will make their lives complete. Rapunzel, for instance, longs for a taste of the world outside her narrow confinement and the domineering, though loving, influence of her mother.
With its themes of love between generations and the search for personal fulfillment, Into the Woods encourages us to discover ourselves through the characters onstage. To identify with the journey from youthful innocence to wise maturity.
“One of the reasons that audiences will connect to the show is because all of us have had moments where our understanding of our lives has been completely reframed,” director Ben Steinfeld said. In one of the shows most memorable songs, “Giants in the Sky,” Jack comes down the beanstalk after visiting the kingdom of the giants, only to discover a renewed appreciation for the house and mother he left behind.
Jack, played by Patrick Mulryan and Bonnie Kramer as Jack’s mother were both bright spots of the performance. They displayed good acting skills and vocal chops.
Sondheim’s songs are also a bright spot, especially “Children Will Listen” and “No One Is Alone.”
At the conclusion, it seemed as if the audience felt that they were in good hands.
Steven LIeberman is a veteran sports/arts/entertainment journalist. Lieberman has covered entertainment and professional sports, Including the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, for the past 14 years. Among his entertainment work, Lieberman covers concerts, theatre and events.