Various renditions of “Into the Woods” have appeared on Broadway, in film, community theatre, elsewhere in Southern California, etc. over the years. However, the current national tour version of “Into the Woods” that opened April 5 at the Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles offered a magical, stripped down production of the fractured fairy tale musical.
This is the New York-based Fiasco Theater production of “Into the Woods” that debuted with much acclaim off-Broadway two years ago. It still features the memorable songs, such as “Children Will Listen,” the title track, “Last Midnight,” and “No One Is Alone.” It also follows the basic premise of the Tony Award-winning musical with Stephen Sondheim’s acclaimed music and lyrics and James Lapine’s book. As directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, however, this version features less of the flashy effects but a no less an effective staging with the cast providing the simple musical accompaniment and whimsical touches.
It is no small task for a musical built on magic and fantasy to appeal to adults, but the humor and heart win out. Those unfamiliar with “Into the Woods” may think it is a Disney musical. However, this take on Cinderella, Rapunzel, and other fairy tales is not aimed at children, at least beyond Act 1. This musical is really about what happens when people get their wishes.
At the end of Act 1, which is where many school stagings end the musical, the stories seem to be wrapped up in traditional ways. The cast sings “Into the woods, then out of the woods. To be continued … and happy ever after.” The intonation on that last phrase, however suggests that life did not go on as planned.
In Act 2, the darkening stage and tone are set with the opening song. The cast warns, “Wishes may bring problems … such that you regret them.” For example, having gotten Rapunzel and Cinderella, the two princes reprise their song “Agony,” whining about their desires now for Snow Shite and Sleeping Beauty. In the first act, they dreamily ended, “I must have her to wife.” Demonstrating the musical’s look at the happily ever after, they later regretfully sing “Ah, well, back to my wife…” in the reprise.
The ensemble cast is talented and racially diverse. Like “Hamilton,” this show illustrates that skin tone does not matter here (singing voice and comedic flare do). Most of the cast plays multiple parts, sometimes adding to the fun in comically switching between their roles.
The cast members with the hardest shoes to fill are Stephanie Umoh as Witch and Laurie Veldheer as Cinderella (and the Granny). Veldheer is great throughout with a wonderful voice and a different appeal than Anna Kendrick in the movie. Umoh is good, but it is hard to erase the image of Meryl Streep in the film’s role.
The ensemble also includes the winning Anthony Chatmon II playing the Wolf, Lucinda, and Cinderella’s Prince; a stellar Eleasha Gamble as the Baker’s Wife; Evan Harrington as the Baker (heavily reminiscent of James Corden’s movie version); Lisa Helmi Johanson in the roles of Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood; Bonne Kramer portraying Cinderella’s Stepmother and Jack’s Mother; Patrick Mulryan as Jack and the Steward, the very funny Darick Pead as Milky White the cow, Florinda, and Rapunzel’s Prince; Evan Rees on stage the whole time as the pianist and music director; as well as Fred Rose as Mysterious Man.
The witch, wolf, and fairy tale royalty will be venturing “Into the Woods”in Los Angeles through May 14. The national tour will then move onto Dallas.
By Dyanne Weiss
Performance April 5, 2017
Center Theatre Group: ‘INTO THE WOODS’ OPENS AT THE AHMANSON THEATRE
Into the Woods on Tour
Photo by Joan Marcus of Laurie Veldheer as Cinderella, Anthony Chatmon II as Cinderella’s Prince and the cast of “Into the Woods,” at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre.