“Wishes may bring problems, such as you regret them; better that though, than to never get them!” the characters sing in “Into The Woods”—Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s five-time Tony Award-winning hodge-podge reimagining of some of our most treasured childhood fairy-tales. Happily, “Once upon a time” is now with an outstanding revival of the show by 3-D Theatricals at Fullerton California’s landmark “Plummer Auditorium” located at 201 E. Chapman Avenue, Fullerton CA.
There are so many things to like about this truly magical and majestic re-staging of this old favorite as ‘The Plummer’s’ resident theatre company gives this classic the first-class treatment it so richly deserves. What’s more, there’s a special kind of magic that defies description, with plenty of ‘Gee-Whiz” special effects and all your favorite fairy tale characters—including Jack (of the Beanstalk fame) Red Ridinghood, Rapunzel, Cinderella, the ‘Big Bad Wolf’–even Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and the Three Little Pigs make appearances! Lapine’s libretto cleverly uses each tale to explore the conundrums of modern childhood (and parenthood for that matter,) making every story a parable regarding life’s moral ambiguities that very much speaks to young and old alike. At traces, the emotion here is genuine and palatable.
Plot-wise, there’s an interesting contrast that takes place over the course of the show. The first act sees all the characters pursuing their own individual goals that are familiar to anyone who’s ever been told a bed time story; but by the time Act Two rolls around it becomes necessary for them all to pull together to achieve one challenge they all have in common (if they can stop blaming one another long enough to do it, that is.) With their individual wishes granted they must now figure out how defeat a fierce Lady Giant (voiced by “All In The Family” and “Gilmore Girls” star, Sally Strothers) who’s out to avenge the death of her husband after Jack cut down the beanstalk bringing about the raging Behemoth’s untimely demise. (Without a doubt after all the joviality in the first act, things get serious pretty quickly after intermission.)
Directed and Choreographed by T.J. Dawson, with the aid of Assistant Director Rufus Bonds Jr. and Leslie Stevens as Assistant Choreographer, Dawson’s direction (in the first act especially) is fast-paced—even manic–at times, as the plot and situations require, utilizing Plummer Auditorium’s entire space. Having brought together a fine (and finely tuned) ensemble, he plays up the script’s comic elements as much as possible giving just about all of them their moments to shine. In the second act he slows things down just enough to allow the intensity of what’s being portrayed to be experienced to its full depth. Upon entry, Audience members are greeted by the sounds of the deep dark woods played against the open stage on which are three small cottages (and a cow) all befitting a child’s story book. In fact, the lush set design by Tom Buderwitz hits all the right (and most evocative) ‘notes’, favoring Beatrix Potter or the Brothers Grimm over Walt Disney. Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting design which incorporates some nifty shadow effects to convey the menacing presence of the Giantess, along with Andrew Nagy’s Projections (–including that of an especially expansive and vine-covered “Bean stalk”–) also deserve special mention. Complimenting both sets and lighting are the truly sumptuous costumes that come courtesy of “California Musical Theatre” and were coordinated by Yolanda Rowell. Moreover, Musical Director Julie Lamoureux does an equally laudable job presiding over the 15 piece orchestra.
Betts Malone does a superlative job as “The Witch”–first appearing as a bitter and vengeful old crone until she is ‘transformed’ into a great beauty with no powers. She’s the one who reminds the group of how truly treacherous Giants can be: “A Giant is just like us…only bigger!” she warns them. Her Act Two malediction, “Last Midnight” builds softly—insidiously —from a gentle lullaby into a bona fide show-stopper. Jeanette Dawson too, presents a different, more three-dimensional take on “Cinderella”–and oh what a voice she has! She particularly impresses with “On The Steps Of The Palace” –Sondheim’s witty ode to indecision, as well as when taking the lead vocals on the iconic “No One Is Alone”. Jordan Lamoureux provides a healthy dose of youthful energy as the “sad lad” Jack, bringing a vibrancy to his stream-of-consciousness chanson “Giants In The Sky”, while Julie Morgentaler’s ‘Red Ridinghood” is a pint-sized powerhouse with a voice as big as great out-doors! Her soliloquy “I Know Things Now” is A-Plus, yet she can still quietly manage to stroke the heart-strings as well with her part in “No One Is Alone”. Shortly thereafter, the entire cast unites onstage for “Children Will Listen” (complete with seldom heard verses) to make for a fitting finale to this utterly delightful show.
Excellent support is also provided by Cameron Sczempka as ‘Rapunzel’s Prince and Tim Martin Gleason pulls double-duty as Cinderella’s not-so charming Prince (“I was raised to be charming—not sincere” he tells her at one point) and Red Ridinghood’s wolf. In this latter guise, his solo turn “Hello Little Girl” is handled with class, choosing subtlety and seduction over outright salaciousness. Likewise, Tracy Rowe Mutz does a fine job (and gets plenty of laughs) as Jack’s slightly nutty mother. In addition, Sondheim created a surprising amount a duets for this one and each stands out wonderfully. “Agony”—the two Prince’s melodic treatise on wanting and infidelity offers a near operatic “Wow-factor” for the evening, while the Baker and his Wife’s “It Takes Two” also hits a dynamic bulls-eye. Indeed, Jeff Skowron and Viva Carr as the fore-mentioned pair make for the most tuneful couple and the perfect duo to serve as the center (and in some cases, touchstone) for all the on-stage goings-on. Carr’s number, “Moment’s In The Woods” is also a highpoint.
Family-Friendly entertainment doesn’t get any better than this, so don’t wait for another “midnight gone” –‘Happily Ever After” only lasts three weeks! Having opened Friday, May 2, “Into The Woods” will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, and Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM through Sunday May 18th, with added performances on Thursday, May 15th at 8:00 PM and Saturday, May 17th at 2:00 PM . Tickets may be obtained by phone at (714) 589-2770, online by vising www.3dtshows.com or at the theatre two hours prior to performances (Group and Student discounts are also available.)
Production Stills by Isaac James Creative (http://isaacjamescreative.com) Courtesy of Michael Sterling & Associates Entertainment Publicity and 3-D Theatricals. Special Thanks to the Cast and Crew of 3-D Theatrical’s “Into The Woods” for making this story possible.