By Steve Wehrly, Journal reporter
If you like fairy tales and musical theater, you’ll love Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”.
With one caveat: these are Grimm’s fairy tales, not Disney’s.
Sondheim’s two-act, 30-song take on making wishes come true features the somewhat dark, Grimm, side of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood. Mixed with fairy tale wishes (and a couple of gruesome outcomes) are the wishes of a baker and his wife for a child, who are on a quest to have a witch’s infertility curse lifted.
This multi-Tony award-winning musical comes to the Whittier Stage on April 26, complete with the evil witch (played by Sound of Music star Jill Urbach) and cameo appearances by Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. As with all Sondheim musicals, the music is tuneful and the lyrics poetic, but the “feel” is closer to Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd than to Disney’s Mary Poppins.
The story is both simple and dark. Director Margaret Hall explains: “I tell people who ask me about the play that Act I is all of the characters going into the woods to realize their wishes. Act II is ‘be careful what you wish for.’”
Like Grimm’s fairy tales and Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, the musical has funny moments, gruesome scenes (one of Cinderella’s sisters has her big toe amputated, another has her heel cut off) and thought-provoking episodes and conclusions.
As with some earlier productions, Hall’s production offers a Children’s Matinee (without the more adult Act II), scheduled for Sunday, April 28, at 2 p.m.
Into the Woods competed for Tony Awards in 1988 with Phantom of the Opera. Nominated for ten awards, Sondheim’s musical came away with Best Score, Best Book and Best Actress awards, compared to Phantom’s seven awards. Into the Woods has been revived numerous times in New York and London, winning “Best Revival” Tony and Drama Desk awards in 2002.
Music Director Jim Collado thinks Into the Woods is one of Sondheim’s “musical masterpieces.” “My goal is to take technically challenging music and make it entertaining,” Collado said.
And challenging it is, in a play where music is a key part of the story and much of the music is actually part of the dialogue. Collado’s first musical direction effort at the San Juan Island Community Theater was last year’s Sound of Music.
Kim Burns’s costumes are “fabulous, especially Cinderella’s ball gown and wedding dress,” said Hall, who said she enjoyed the challenging staging of Into the Woods and directing a cast that can really bring the complicated musical to life. “I love helping performers achieve their potential,” she said.
Those performers include Deb Langhans as the Baker’s Wife, Scott Mapstead as the Baker, Jill Urbach as the Witch, Penelope Haskew as Cinderella, Nicholas Zervas as Jack, Grace Castle as Little Red Riding Hood, and Patti Bair as Jack’s Mother.
The Community Theater production is especially timely: Into the Woods is this year being made into a feature film - with Meryl Streep playing The Witch.
What a great chance to see and appreciate the original stage version of an outstanding Sondheim musical before comparing it with the movie version!
Whittier Theater, April 26-27, May 2-4, May 9-11, 7:30 p.m.; May 5, 5 p.m.; Children’s Matinee, April 28, 2 p.m.
Children’s Matinee tickets $8 each. Thursday, May 2: Adults $16 Students $8. All other performances: Adults $20 Students $10 RUSH $5.