Produced by: Broadway by the Bay
Directed by: Jasen Jeffrey
Choreographed by: Camille Edralin
Music direction by: Sean Kana
Featuring: David Hundsness, Jennifer Mitchell, Kamren Mahaney, Sam Faustine, Juliana Lustenader, David Blackburn, Brigitte Losey, Sofia Costantini, Melissa Costa, Jenni Chapman, Jen Brooks, Jennifer Martinelli, Chloë Angst, Michael Stahl, John Melis, Jay Thulien, Amanda Plant, Gabby Wylie-Chaney
Running time: 160 minutes, one intermission
When: November 8-24, 2019
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway Street, Redwood City
Tickets: $44—$66. Call 650-579-5565, visit www.broadwaybythebay.org, or go to the Box Office, 2219 Broadway Street, Redwood City
what a big stage you have!
“Into the Woods” is bucket-list show for almost everybody involved in musical theater.
It has the great mish-mash of fairy tales in the book, by James Lapine — Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, the Baker and his Wife, Little Red Ridinghood, Rapunzel, a couple of princes, a witch (natch) and a few other classic characters who starred in stories told to us when we were young.
And, fabulous music and lyrics by the great and always amazing Stephen Sondheim.
It is the stuff dreams are made on, at least for musical performers. Most of them have some favorite character they have wanted to play, maybe for years. Adrienne Walters, one of the finest musical theater performers in the Bay Area, for instance, in 2016 realized her long-held desire to play Milky White — a cow with no dialogue, often played by a dummy on wheels — at Palo Alto Players.
For David Blackburn, another great musical theater performer, the “Into the Woods” currently on stage for Broadway by the Bay at the Fox in Redwood City, he is “finally getting the chance to do MamaRu proud and fulfill his drag race fantasy” by putting on a fabulous wig and playing Cinderella’s Stepmother.
He’s funny in the role, and humor overall is what makes this production of the oft-seen musical special.
Director Jasen Jeffrey seems to have mined every possible joke out of the script, including some tasty surprises, from a great howl from the Big Bad Wolf (played by John Melis, who got a great round of applause as the sociopath Jud in “Oklahoma!” in 2016), to the hilarious way Chloë Angst, as Rapunzel, sprinkles tears into the eyes of her blinded prince (Michael Stahl), restoring his vision.
The show opens with three little side-by-side sets. Cinderella, her step-mother in the Kirstie-Alley wig and two stepsisters (Sofia Costantini and Brigitte Losey), all agog about the royal to-do coming up: The Baker (Sam Faustine) and his wife (Juliana Lustenader), who want a baby; and Jack (Kamren Mahaney) and his mother (Melissa Costa).
Mahaney uses a high, whiny voice that makes him seem young and stupid, and is funny in the role. He doesn’t want to sell Milky White, the cow, because she is his best friend. Even if she is just a dummy on wheels, not Adrienne Walters.
Along comes Jen Brooks as the Witch, and she is terrific in the role. She delivers her lines with power and menace, which absolutely works for this show. She explains to the Baker and his Wife that she had cursed his father — something about a crop of magic beans — which is why they haven’t been able to have children.
The curse can be lifted, she says, if they bring her, within three days, "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." Off they all go, into the woods, on various quests.
We already know about a white cow; before too long Little Red Ridinghood shows up with a red cape; the Witch’s daughter, Rapunzel (Chloë Angst), has more blond hair than she needs; and Cinderella somehow gets a gown and pure slippers from her long-lost mother in the woods.
Plots, machinations and other tomfoolery fill the forest as the show goes on, complicated by an unseen (until the second act) giant and each camp’s sometimes opposing needs. Melis is in excellent voice as the Big Bad Wolf, although his face is hidden in a wolf mask. He later sounds great as Cinderella’s prince.
Jenni Chapman is another solid presence, as Little Red Ridinghood, who is eaten by the Wolf, but saved by the Baker. He get her red cape, she gets a wolf-skin cape.
David Hundsness is strong of voice and presence as the narrator and as the Mysterious Man.
There are too many plots twists to list in a review, but know that the show is filled with Sondheim’s brilliant lyrics, such for “It Takes Two”: “You've changed. You're daring. You're different in the woods. More sure. More sharing. You're getting us through the woods.”
The Fox is a huge, tall theater, and it can be daunting to fill all that space. Kelly James Tighe offers us a handsome woods set that ends up not doing too much and not scaring us at all. I wanted to see the giant beanstalk.
Costume designer Katelyn Bailey gave us pretty frocks to enjoy, especially the Witch’s multicolor ensemble.
Sound by Jon Hayward was excellent, with a clear, strong mix all the way to the back of the enormous theater. Sean Kana conducted a 20-piece orchestra that sounded great throughout.