July 15, 2008

Review: Shakespeare Festival Musical About Fairy Tales is Lively, Funny and Ironic.

By Dana Oland, The Idaho Statesman, Boise

Jul. 15--Happily-ever-after never comes easily. In fact in Stephen Sondheim's and James Lapine's "Into the Woods," a musical trip through a deconstructed fairy-tale land, it is never really an option.

The path promises adventure, true love and dreams fulfilled, despite the typical fairy-tale pitfalls, such as randy wolves, witch's spells and vengeful giantesses. But what the journey really reveals is our deepest, darkest fears: parental abuse, failure, infidelity and death.

This might be the dark side of the fairy tale, but in the hands of Lapine and Sondheim it is a lively, funny, ironic and poignant trip. And in this exceedingly well-rendered production by the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, which opened to a near-capacity house Saturday, it is a joy to experience.

James Lapine based his Tony-winning book on Bruno Bettelheim's "The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales," which explores the significance of fairy tales in various cultures. And the characters are all in here: Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, the Witch and a few other favorites. The book also includes an original tale, "The Baker and His Wife," which creates the center of this play around which the other tales revolve. Through this magic glass we experience the whole of life's emotions.

Jeff Herrmann's set is like a page from a storybook magically brought to life. Three sculpted "trees" that are reminiscent of the apple-throwing grove in "The Wizard of Oz" dominate the set. Each rotates, revealing another piece of a story -- Rapunzel's tower, Grandmother's cottage, Cinderella's mother's grave.

The look of the show is completed with Charlotte Yetman's very-fairy tale costumes and Cecil Kester's wig designs that add comic edge, such as the Stepsister's remarkably whipped and stacked wigs and Jack's carrot-top faux hawk.

The cast is peppered with a few familiar company members and some who have returned after a season or two, mixed with a lively and talented bunch of newcomers. Together they create a character-rich world that captivates and enchants. The ensemble expertly handles the difficult musical entrances, tricky rhythms and counterpoint.

There are many wonderful character performances to relish, from Cathy Prince and Paige Neal as Cinderella's stepsisters and Laura Perrotta as her stepmother to Alyssa Weldon's Ophelia-like Rapunzel and Alicia Kahn as Red's feisty Grandmother.

Erin Childs is an energetic fireball as Red Riding Hood, the little girl who turns into a crazed wolf-killer. Tim Try makes a delightfully self-deprecating Jack as he goes from lost-boy to greedy giant slayer. Try has great interplay with Lynn Allison, who plays Try's overbearing, yet loving, mother with glee.

Emily Krieger, who first performed at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" in 2004, gives her Cinderella a sweet sadness as she tries to figure out how be more than just a princess in waiting. Derrick Colby, who provided the voice for Seymour, the man-eating plant in last season's "Little Shop of Horrors," is broad and dynamic as both the Wolf and Cinderella's Prince. He and brother prince Phil Carroll (Rapunzel's Prince), lament their state beautifully as heroes defined by the women they save, in "Agony," one of the most memorable numbers in the show.

Jessica Cope, a talented performer with a remarkable voice, navigates the demanding role of Witch. She is especially strong in the first act as the old crone, but she struggles in the second act after the Witch regains her beauty and loses her power. Her youth and beauty aside, Cope doesn't reach the depth of character needed to make the Witch resonate.

At the heart of the play are the Baker (Tom Ford) and his Wife (Jodi Dominick) who bring depth and emotional richness to their roles.

Newcomer Dominick is particularly touching and funny as the Wife who longs for a touch of Cinderella's life and eventually has her moment with the Prince. Ford, a long-time company member, offers a touch of pathos and yearning to his Baker that makes him the most real of the story-characters.

Victoria Bussert's laser-like direction pulled this difficult show together in a matter of weeks, a feat that with a lesser company would have yielded an inferior production. Helped by Martin Cespedes' character-driven choreography, tight musical direction of John Jay Espino and a talented group of musicians in the pit, we are given a layered and memorable night at the theater.

And the star is the musical itself, which in the best tradition of musical theater tackles many of life's most difficult questions with humor and profundity, including how to be a parent, whom to love, and how cope with the deepest human tragedies.

How do we walk through our own personal woods, knowing that life often doesn't come out the way we planned? Lapine and Sondheim's musical points the way.

Dana Oland: 377-6442


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