Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Fairytale for grownups at Music Circus

Photos by Charr Crail

Some shows are good; others are bad. And then there are others that are a matter of taste. “Into the Woods,” now at Music Circus, belongs to the third group. It’s a kind of literary and musical stunt for Stephen Sondheim, who created music and lyrics, and James Lapine, who wrote the book. They set themselves the original and daunting task of assembling a super fairytale collected from the brothers Grimm and others telling the same yarns in other languages and with differing details. So how could they create a plot, with suitable music, to unify all that for a sophisticated modern audience?

“Into the Woods,” the result, opened on Broadway in 1987, picked up a couple of Tony Awards, and has had a successful track record ever since. At the end of the Music Circus opening night performance, though, about half the audience gave it a standing ovation; the other half kept their seats. The show was a dazzling display of singing, dancing and acting talent, with stunning visual effects, based on a rambling, tongue-in-cheek send-up of fairy tales.

The obvious problem for Lapine was to find a story line that would include just about everybody’s favorite childhood bedtime story. The team solved the first hurdle by introducing two unfamiliar characters, a baker (Jeffry Denman) and his wife (Vicki Lewis), who are childless because of a curse by a witch (Yvette Cason). The narrator (Michael G. Hawkins) also introduces Cinderella (Kim Huber), wishing to attend the King’s festival, and Jack (Matthew Wolpe), who wishes his cow, Milky-White, would give milk. They are all gathered in the woods, where the witch instructs them to find a collection of objects within a limited time as the price to raise her curse.

In the process the characters encounter Little Red Riding Hood (Tracy Katz Paladini); a startling Rapunzel (Savannah Smith-Thomas), with yards of golden hair streaming down from her tower; two princes, one for Cinderella (Gordon Goodman), the other for Rapunzel (Jason Forbach); a giant; Sleeping Beauty (Amanda Valli); Snow White (Paige Silvester); and others. The first act ends on an upbeat note, but the second finds the characters under threat by the giant widow (Karen Culliver) of the first giant, who never appeared. Some of the characters die and others engage in adultery, but who cares? Three characters are blinded but one gets back his eye through magic.

The music has the Sondheim stamp. Particularly effective among the twenty-two original songs, are “Agony,” “Stay With Me,” and “No One Is Alone”; but none is really haunting, like “Send in the Clowns,” from “A Little Night Music.”

Glenn Casale does a fine job of direction and choreography with a sharp cast, strongly supported by an orchestra of 13 musicians.

“Into the Woods” continues through August 2 at the Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H Street, Sacramento. Performances are at 8 p.m. through Saturday, at 2 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, and at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets, $41 to $53, are currently on sale at the Wells Fargo Pavilion, or by phone at (916) 557-1999. Tickets are also available online at or by calling (800) 225-2277. For groups of 12 or more call (916) 557-1198. For more information about the show and the season, visit

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