Thursday, December 29, 2005 at
Lucie Stern Theatre
Palo Alto, CA
Not counting the very first time I saw Into
the Woods put on by the Davis Musical Theatre Company (a community theatre
production), I had only seen the DVD of the original Broadway cast, which gave
me some high expectations going into this, but for the most part, TheatreWorks
fulfilled most of them. (I will be doing a lot of comparison, though -- just as
First, the cast:
C. Kelly Wright **
Gary S. Martinez
James Monroe Iglehart
* (didn't catch the name of who
substituted this role)
** C. Kelly Wright substituted for Thursday Farrar
Overall, the entire show was very well
executed. I remember reading that Into the Woods is one of the more
complicated musicals to put on, and I'm sure it requires endless rehearsals to
get all the timing down, but this cast had it all down pat and it was very
The stage at the Lucie Stern Theatre (which is
a community theatre) is rather small, and there was a narrow (1-foot across at
the most) strip of stage going behind the conductor and right over the orchestra
pit that the performers crossed on numerous occasions that I thought was a
little precarious, but otherwise the size of the stage didn't really hinder the
show much at all. I was a little bothered, though, by the sudden "geysers" of
"smoke" that would suddenly shoot up quite violently from the stage each time
the Witch threw a spell at someone. They were more annoying than anything else.
Seemed there could have been a better way to do that.
Also, I have yet to figure out what, if any,
revisions were done after the revival of Into the Woods in 1992. I
thought there was a new song added in for the Witch and Rapunzel ("Our Little
World"), but it wasn't in this performance, which was more or less identical to
what I'm familiar with pre-revival.
I've always felt this show is somewhat imbalanced
between the first and second acts. The first act is almost pure comedy (at least
the way it was portrayed here) without a whole lot of emotion (with perhaps an
exception for "Stay With Me"). The second act, on the other hand, while it has
its share of humor, is much more emotional, sad, and somewhat poignant, but
crosses over into being overly melodramatic (at least with comparison to the
first act). But at the same time, it is in the second act when the "point" of
the show becomes clear and when some of the most important life lessons come
across. It perhaps isn't all that subtle, but when are fairy tales ever subtle?
The only thing I have to nitpick about the entire
cast's performance was that I felt that everyone over-acted a little bit at some
place or another (and some more often than not). But at the same time, maybe it
was necessary since their voices weren't really being amplified much at all and
had to put a little extra to project and carry to the back of the theatre.
Tidbits and individual performances:
Christiane Noll (Baker's Wife): I
have to say Christiane's was the performance I enjoyed the most. She had one
of the best acting and singing combinations of the cast, and she was fairly
good with the comedy (though there were a few places where she could have
milked it out for a little more). The only thing I didn't like was at the
beginning of "Moments in the Woods", which she started doing that
half-singing, half-speaking thing that drives me utterly insane. She has
such a great voice, I wanted to hear her really sing it, especially since it
is one of my favorite songs. It's a wonderful song about discovering how
much she learned to really appreciate her life with the Baker and their baby
after getting a taste of what she's always wished for: a moment with a
Prince. It's especially kind of sad in retrospect because she comes to this
wonderful revelation just seconds before she dies (which is part of the
overly melodramatic problem I have, but whatever). But aside from that, there isn't much to
complain about. When she came back in the "Finale" as a ghost, encouraging
the Baker that he could raise their son by himself, it was just so sad and
still so beautiful in the way that she tried to be comforting to her
Cristin Boyle (Cinderella) had a
lovely singing voice and is a strong mezzo-soprano, but her acting left a
little to be desired. I can't put my finger on what it is exactly, but when
she sang to the audience and on occasion to other characters, she almost
seemed to come across as a little spoiled and bratty right from the
beginning and she carried it through most of the show. (That's not the best
way to explain it, but I can't remember my exact thoughts at the time ... It'll come to me.) She also
unfortunately didn't give the emotion Cinderella deserved at the end when
she confronts her Prince for the last time and tells him she won't be
returning to the castle to be his wife. I was nearly in tears the first time
I saw this scene on the DVD, but Cristin kind of just glossed over all of the
lines between her and her Prince. It wasn't until she took off her ring and
dropped it into her Prince's hand (not done on the DVD, but an excellent
touch here!) that I really felt sad for Cinderella. She also had this
strange way of listening to the birds that made it look like she was having
a seizure or something, the way that her head oscillated back and forth very
rapidly and with her eyes looking up which kind of looked like they were
rolled back in her head. (Sorry, that's kind of mean, but that is
what I thought.)But she did sing "On the
Steps of the Palace" (another of my favorite songs) very, very well,
displaying just how torn she was being stuck in the pitch at the palace, and with
the right touch of humor mixed in.
Robert Brewer (Jack) was a strong
performer, though there were a couple times when his voice wasn't quite as clear as it could have
been. But he certainly came across as bold, adventurous, though perhaps not
the sharpest knife in the drawer, and having strong
affections for his cow and hen. I really enjoyed "Giants in the Sky", which
carried the audience through his emotions of awe in discovering the giants'
world, horror of almost being eaten by one of the giants, and coming back to
his own world with a new perspective on things.
Courtney Stokes (Little Red Ridinghood)
had an uncanny resemblance to Danielle Ferland of the OBC, both in the way
she looked and the way portrayed LRRH (though sometimes, especially at the
very beginning of the show, the delivery of her
lines was a little too forceful): naive but very bold, perhaps a little
bull-headed, and afraid of nothing. She almost had me in tears, though, when
she broke down crying after going to Granny's and not finding Granny
anywhere and the guilt she felt about plotting to kill the woman giant. Good
acting there. I did notice that they lowered the key of "I Know Things Now" a tiny
bit by what couldn't have been more than a whole note at most (though I
definitely noticed it), which surprised me a little considering it's not
really that high of a song. But it was still a good, lightly humored song
about her losing her innocence.
Jackson Davis (Baker): There was
something about the way he wore his baker's hat really did make him look
like a baker (though I wanted to think French pastry chef for some reason).
His acting was pretty good for the most part, though it felt a little weak
at times (I can't remember when at the moment), perhaps because he is so
tall and it looked as if it wasn't so easy for him to move around the stage, but he is an excellent
singer. I believe he was at his best in "No More" and "No One is Alone" when
both singing and acting are imperative to get the emotion across, and he did
both very well. In fact, it's at the end of the show when he gets to shine
the most, having to struggle with his grief over losing his wife to the
woods and realizing that he is going to have to raise his son alone, and
that his son will never know his mother.
C. Kelly Wright (The Witch) had a
very solid, strong voice that made songs like "Stay With Me", "Lament",
and "Last Midnight" really spectacular, especially with the
emotion that is written into those songs. "Lament" was particularly sad,
displaying the Witch's anger and grief over Rapunzel's death, and she sang
the entire song holding and sadly touching Rapunzel's purple cape that was
left behind just before she was crushed. The Witch is also a comical role,
and she was quite funny in the comedy
bits that were written into her lines. However, a lot of the comical bits
that weren't built-in weren't taken advantage of. Her portrayal could
have been so much funnier than it was, though I don't know if that was her
acting choice or the director's choice.
Patrick Leveque (Rapunzel's Prince) and
Michael Hunsaker (Cinderella's Prince): Both the actors who portrayed
the Princes had a wonderful sense of timing and delivery to get every bit of
humor out of their lines. I didn't think it was possible to laugh any harder
during "Agony" or "Agony (Reprise)". They are also both very strong singers
which helped a lot in getting the proper diction without over-enunciating.
It was also really funny the way both Princes (but especially Cinderella's
Prince) leapt on and off stage -- doing this large, very ungraceful (but
looks deliberately that way), stag-leap-type thing. Cinderella's Prince also
had this way of shifting his weight from one foot to the other that was like
a mini-leap in itself that was absolutely funny because he would do when you
would least expect it.
Bill Olson (Milky-White the cow):
Yes, there was an actual person portraying the cow, Milky-White, as opposed
to the large plastic inanimate cow the OBC apparently had to work with.
Apparently, Bill is well trained in portraying fully costumed animals, and
it definitely showed in the way he moved about the stage (which looked like
it should have been difficult because his arms/her front legs were extended
by short stilts to make the cow more even). He was absolutely hilarious
during "It Takes Two" when he had the cow bobbing her head back and forth in
time with the music. There was also a bit of involvement of Milky-White
whenever Jack was supposed to tell how much he was to ask for his cow.
Instead of correctly saying "no less than five pounds", he would say "no
more than five --" and the cow would stamp on his foot to correct him to say
"no less than five". Which was quite funny, especially if you think about
the cow making sure that she wasn't going to be sold too easily.
I have to give huge kudos for how well "Your
Fault" was executed. There is just so much text to spit out in a short
amount of time and so much interweaving of lines with one another at such a
fast tempo that it was really impressive that it was done so cleanly, while
still maintaining the tension, anger, defensiveness that Jack, the Baker,
Little Red Ridinghood, Cinderella, and the Witch feel trying blame anyone
but themselves for what has happened.
Similarly, "No One is Alone" was a beautiful
blend of Cinderella and the Baker's voices, and later Little Red Ridinghood
and Jack's. There were some timing issues for a couple of the lines, simply
because they were on opposite sides of the stage and neither looking at each
other nor the conductor, so they had only their own sense of timing to rely
This was probably a choice of the director's
but one hilarious moment that got moved and thus got lost was when the
Baker's Wife tells Cinderella, "I need that shoe to have a child!" I'm used
to seeing this on the third encounter between them, when Cinderella is
trying to avoid the Baker's Wife who already "attacked" her/her shoe in
their previous encounter. This time, though, it got thrown in as Cinderella
made her getaway in their second encounter and the line got lost in the
chaos that I don't think anyone really responded much to it. Pity. I loved
Cinderella's reaction to it on the DVD.
Also different from the OBC was the
interaction between the characters and the Narrator, especially at the very
beginning. For example:
After the Narrator says about
Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters, "All three were beautiful of
face, but vile and black of heart," all three shot the Narrator a nasty
Similarly, after the Narrator says about
Jack's mother, "As for his mother, well, she was not quite beautiful,"
she stopped short as she was about to start singing and turned slowly
toward the Narrator to give him a Look.
The beginning of "It Takes Two" was staged a
little strangely: the first verse (which the Baker's Wife sings) and the
second verse (which the Baker sings) were each done without facing or even
looking at one another, such that it was a little hard to tell that they
were singing to one another. Especially since the Baker was sitting
at the far left side of the stage, staring off into nowhere.
When Baker and Baker's wife somewhat angrily split to find
another cow and the golden slipper (respectively), it's supposed to be
back-and-forth spat between them saying,
"Fine ... fine ... that is just simply fine!". But it was worked
quite well and was quite funny the way that it was only the Baker who said
anything, and his wife said nothing except for a couple grunts.
There were some missing lines where Jack's
mother usually is in hysterics and describes how there is a giant in her
backyard and how she fears Jack might have been crushed.
There was also a large chunk cut from
"Prologue: So Happy" at the beginning of Act Two, where everything is shaken
to shambles after the group sings, "Then fortune smiled, I'm so happy ..."
(there's supposed to be a short dialogue between the Baker and the Baker's
wife about raising their son).
Also, there were a few lines missing from
when the Baker, distraught over his wife's death, decided to leave his son
and the rest of the group: Baker: You don't understand. My wife was the only one who really
helped. I depended on her for everything. Cinderella: You would leave your child? Baker: My child will be happier in the arms of a princess. Which I guess wouldn't have made sense anyway, since it was Little Red
Ridinghood who was holding his son. But still. I'm not sure why this was
omitted because I think it's really important to understanding the state of
mind of the Baker for the next scene.
More later, perhaps, if anything else comes to