Review by Danny Gaisin
Three decades ago, Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics to an imagined Fairy tale that incorporated Grimm’s “Little Red Riding Hood”; ‘Rapunzel’; Jack & his Beanstalk plus Cinderella (The Disney version, not the opera). Readers may recall that Sondheim is not one of this scribe’s favourite composers. I find his works repetitious and boring, sort of like Gordon Lightfoot. Think Sweeney Todd where not one but two songs are composed of repeating “Johanna” over & over. Then, there’s his West Side Lyrics to ‘Maria, Maria, ad infinitum. His music & prose default carries throughout ‘Into The Woods’… and for a long three & 1/4 hours!
Drury Lane Theatrical Productions surprisingly figured out a way to present what is a large stage play on their cabaret-style venue. Director Michael MacLennan has cleverly manipulated the action and focal points using intricate blocking and spot-lighting that is both effective and obviously well thought-out. Naturally, he’s also challenged the stage crew and they keep the action continually moving and without any hiccups. Quite an accomplishment given the frenetic pace of Act I. His choreographed chorus numbers, musically directed by Anne Barnshaw encompasses the entire stage and are effectively presented, although the piano backing could use a little more muting.
The dozen and a half cast members give full measure of effort and obviously possess a ton of talented voices and thespian charm. I was especially taken with Maria DePalma’s witchery. Her makeup AND demeanour are perfectly suited for the night after Halloween! Even after her curse removal, she’s still a standout. Miss Rapunzel is Melissa Clause and her smile reflects super wattage. Her ‘siren’ song attracts more than just the Prince, most males in the audience will also find themselves responding. Speaking of voices, Lucy McGhee who plays (& sings) Jack’s mother has a faultless soprano that shows tonal purity as well as amazing projection. Our stalk-climber is Mark Jones and his portrayal denotes just the right amount of intellectual challenges without offending anyone’s sensitivities. An added tale concerns a childless baker and his wife who if they can complete a certain treasure hunt, will become familiarly fertile. Marco Lutterotti & Carolyn Campbell display that certain something that reflect that on-stage chemistry relationship… which is difficult to fake.
The second Act evolves into a ideological morality play dealing with infidelity; betrayal; scrape-goat-ism; and philosophical aria reprises. This is when the pace slackens even to a point of dragging along. Sondheim should have brought a dramaturge on board before his San Diego opening night.
INTO THE WOODS is at the Drury Lane until Nov. 26th. So long as one has a thickly padded backside and endurance; the play makes for a fun evening.