Theatre Review: Los Alamitos/Seal Beach
INTO THE WOODS: EXTENDED-Charmingly Delightful & Enticingly Insightful, Childhood Tales Captivate the Stage
By: Joseph Sirota
Good Live Musicals are born of worthy stories & characters, blended with parallel music & lyrics, and brought to life by talented actor/singer/dancers/musicians-- all radiating gleefully amidst just the right staging. A pretty tall-order, eh? (You may ask ... & rightly so). Well, fear not. Our very own neighbor, Long Beach Playhouse (LBPH) has a dazzling production of the Broadway TONY Award-Winning charmer; INTO THE WOODS, and it satisfies (or exceeds) every one of these "musts"! The very clever Book by James Lapine makes us laugh as well as think in revisiting the fables and fairy-tales of our childhood. The Music and Lyrics are so-pleasing, undeniably-smart and ticklingly-whimsical, you might be surprised --except they're the product of Stephen Sondheim, whose decades of triumphs span back to Westside Story, and he's garnered near countless top musical theater awards galore ever since.
The surprise in this clever/challenging show is there's a lot more Zig-Zagging in these here WOODS! At first glance (ACT-1), we find a resurrected compendium of children's favorite bedtime stories. Despite some odd witches, giants, granny-eating wolves, cookie-stealing granddaughters in bright red capes, a very badly treated stepsister, a long-haired blond daughter locked up in a tower and a very poor single mother whose son is slow-thinking, with a best friend who's a dry white milk cow, and a barren Baker & Wife who pray for a child ... ACT-1 is nonetheless still endearingly funny. Indeed, each odd character seems to find their dreams have come true (so sing a "Live Happily Ever-After" refrain at the intermission. But Here's the Rub; ACT-2 makes it clear that in ADULT-LIFE, this "ever-after stuff" brings some sharp down-turns. Whoops... some dreams become nightmares, and some Ever-Afters become "I wish I could get out of this mess". Uh-Oh... is this a tale for kidlets to fall asleep to? Honest/Wise Sondheim & Lapine are determined to show us both good & bad sides. So while Happy ACT-1 had its share of troubles, SAD ACT-2 has its share of laughs. Oh My! this does seem to turn out like "Real-Life" after all.
Behind the delightful stream of memorably tickling/touching scenes, fast-moving clever dialog and smart/wise songs is a small army of very talented, and equally hard-working production gurus. Director-Greg Cohen deserves Wow's for capturing this very complex challenge, as does Musical Director-Rick Heckman. Set Design by Andrew Vonderschmitt amazingly packs a dozen locales, 21 characters, a Tower or two, and several "key" little chatting/pecking birdies onto the busy Mainstage. Excellent work by Costume Designer-Donna Fritsche, Light Designer-Daniel Bergher & Sound Designer-Sean Gray truly shines. Pulling it all together (Back There)... Stage Mgr-Katie Kenny, Asst' Stage Mgr-Natalie Figaredo & Prop Master-Stacy Hennon make it work.
Without doubt, this is a complex show of many dimensions, all demanding a very talented and ever hard-working, high-energy cast. Again, hats-off to director, Gregory Cohen for taking daring risks and much applause for the fine 17 actors who met the challenge, brought their roles to life, and made this tough show sparkle. Space is so limited & the cast so many, but bunches of "cheers" to the Really HARD-WORKING, and quite multifaceted cast: Owen Lovejoy(Terrific! as the poor Baker- strong vocals and convincing portrayal of a soft-spoken HERO "inside); Jocelyn Adams(Very versatile range, perfect wife for soft Baker husband, always rises to the occasion with believable depth); Michelle Zelina(perhaps the Highest Energy delivery -of an ALL-High-Energy Cast--a good-looking witch with natural musical comedy beats); Meaghan Gates(lovely & likable, too Cinderella); Dana Benedict(feisty & natural comedic timing Lil Red Ridinghood); Katie Roberts(Maybe petite, but notable on-stage natural radiance in several parts; ... though young-looking she's (also a math teacher with Master-Ed. Degree).
Continuing ..."big" CAST(in number & talent): Joey Nestra (makes us care by Jack's convincing kindness, warmth & heart); Suzanne Grady(Grady's key role of Jack's mother had to stepped into by Backstage Ass't(? Name) "with script in-hand" Brava, gave her all allowing "Show Must Go On"); Russell Montooth(a worthy narrator, nicely kept story unfolding & Mystic-Man); Amanda Lamb(Successfully had to be "mean-yet funny as Cinderella's Stepmom); Phie Mura and Leah Brea(like their Mom, these sisters had to be tough on Cinderella, while being very Funny and convincing); Jared Pugh(a womanizing Prince to Cinderella, with a bite even stronger than bark as the WOLF devouring Grandma & Red Ridinghood nice introspective turn in ACT-2); Victor Davila(powerful playboy Prince seduces Rapuzel & gals in audience); Taylor Magee(Nice work in tough role of Rapunzel, locked in tower by Witch Mom, then Wild Prince husband...now Twins to feed); Nicholas Woodall (Good / strong natural presence plus comedic & serious delivery range); Steven Shane(unusual part of Cinderella's lost Dad handled well);
Fairy-Tale characters are purposely written with a wily comedic "Silliness”. Don't mistake this as easy for actors, director, crew. The opposite, is true. Everyone must be razor sharp & talented to deliver rapid fire, oft puzzling exchanges to come off with a message, yet not miss key comedic beats, in timing or edge. Similarly, Sondheim's lauded songs are challenging in both music range, & sophisticated lyrics(viz. "Children Will Listen"; "No One Is Alone"). This adventure Into the Woods was impressive.
--INTO THE WOODS dazzles Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre, 5021 E.Anaheim St, Long Beach. Sched: Fri & Sat 8:PM. Sun matinees @ 2:PM. HOORAY! - Shows Extended thru: Fri & Sat 8:PM Aug 3rd & 4th Tkts: $24 ($21 Senior, $14 Student). Call: (562) 494-1014 Website: www.LBPlayhouse.org