'Into the Woods' is a bonafide Broadway show

Posted: Wednesday, February 28, 2007

If you think fairy tales are just for little kids, think again! "Into the Woods," which premiered in San Diego in 1986, and shortly afterwards on Broadway, is a revved-up musical frolic through a dozen or so familiar stories, currently on stage at Juneau-Douglas High School through March.

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Created by the famous Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (book) team, the show intertwines several Grimm Brothers' fairy tales; stories not known for their "happily ever after" endings. In these versions of "The Baker and his Wife," "Little Red Ridinghood," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Rapunzel," and "Cinderella" anything can happen, and go wrong, in the woods.

Act I opens with a wish, a witch, and a curse. Strands of the famous tales weave throughout the 3-hour production, with plenty of wonderful music, and commendable singing. The live orchestra sounds great. Often the musical numbers advance the plot by revealing what is in the character's mind. The main witch is played with spirit and pizzaz by Clairen Stone; she gives up several lugubrious but entertaining rap songs. Each of the central characters are motivated by selfish wishes, not necessarily evil, but lacking in cooperative intention. Connor Chaney convincingly plays Jack (of the beanstalk) as a sweetly befuddled introverted anti-hero. Mary Erickson also gives an exceptional performance as the child-hungry and romance-craving baker's wife. All have wishes; some come true for awhile.

Act II explores what happens after "happily ever after." The land is ravaged by a giantess, whose husband was killed when Jack chopped down the beanstalk. Under the duress of attack, people are injured and die. Gritty reality invades the fairy tales. Among the many messages expressed in the musical, one of the strongest is that unless the members of a community are united, their mission cannot be accomplished. The remaining characters, Cinderella (played with feminist sophistication by Katie Poor), Little Red Riding Hood (played by Monica Yost as a bouncy ingenue), and The Baker (played with confidence and a nice range of mood inflections by the talented Zak Kirkpatrick), with the hapless but loveable Jack join forces to slay the giant and pick up the pieces of their lives, each having lost someone close to them in the fray.

Space constraints do not allow mention of each of the 46 actors, and many more "techies" who conspired, under the directorship of Michaela and Richard Moore, to present a bonafide Broadway show, replete with a fabulous set and snazzy costumes. The set features three huge books with characters stepping out of the pages. Good work and congratulations to all involved!

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