San Diego Theater Review: INTO THE WOODS (Fiasco Theater at The Old Globe)

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by Tony Frankel on July 29, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

FINDING NEW MOMENTS IN THE WOODS

I wondered at the intermission of Fiasco Theater’s production of Into the Woods why they hadn’t cast amazing singers. Up to this point, the ten-member ensemble played instruments, doubled up on roles, and told the oft-produced Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical in a Story Theatre fashion, omitting the role of the Narrator, anthropomorphizing the cow, and deleting some dialogue.

Alison Cimmet as Witch (far left) with the cast of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, in a reimagining by Fiasco Theater, directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, in a production that originated at McCarter Theatre Center. Into the Woods runs July 12 - Aug. 17, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

In Act I, a Baker and his Wife search for four objects necessary to break a witch’s curse, but Sondheim (music and lyrics) and Lapine (book) mash up a slew of well-known fairy tales to tell a delightful, brand-new story, utilizing over 19 intertwining characters—including Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), and Rapunzel—as they search for their desires among the darkness of gnarled trees (a few extraneous characters have been dropped here).

(from left) Patrick Mulryan as Jack, Ben Steinfeld as Baker, Claire Karpen as Cinderella, and Emily Young as Little Red Ridinghood in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, in a reimagining by Fiasco Theater, directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, in a production that originated at McCarter Theatre Center. Into the Woods runs July 12 - Aug. 17, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

Those who have never seen this musical before (which got its start right here at The Old Globe in 1986 before heading to Broadway) can easily become confused as stories crisscross paths, especially in overblown, presentational revivals. However, (from left) Claire Karpen as Cinderella with Emily Young, Liz Hayes, and Jessie Austrian in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, in a reimagining by Fiasco Theater, directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, in a production that originated at McCarter Theatre Center. Into the Woods runs July 12 - Aug. 17, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.this no-frills version (originally seen at the McCarter Theater on the campus of Princeton University) finds comedy through character and offers startlingly lucid storytelling told against a backdrop of long ropes that emulate piano wires next to differently shaped piano lids bookending the proscenium stage. I was fully engaged by the company’s clever retelling, and the reimagining by directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld (and extraordinary orchestrations and piano work by Matt Castle, who narrates along with the cast), yet I couldn’t help but think there must be some reason for the lack of “legit” Broadway voices.

(from left) Liz Hayes as Cinderella's Stepmother, Noah Brody as Lucinda, Andy Grotelueschen as Florinda, and Claire Karpen as Cinderella in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, in a reimagining by Fiasco Theater, directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, in a production that originated at McCarter Theatre Center. Into the Woods runs July 12 - Aug. 17, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

Had I known what was to befall me in Act II, my only concern would have been: Did I bring enough tissue? In the second act, wishes are fulfilled but happiness remains elusive, and the characters increasingly realize that actions and wishes have consequences. With the aid of imaginative theatercraft and thinking outside the (from left) Ben Steinfeld as Baker and Paul L. Coffey as Mysterious Man in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, in a reimagining by Fiasco Theater, directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, in a production that originated at McCarter Theatre Center. Into the Woods runs July 12 - Aug. 17, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.book’s parameters, Fiasco has caught the heart of this insightful musical, offering the most emotional—no, gut-wrenching—of the over one dozen productions I have seen. I sincerely doubt the film version starring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp (out this December) can possibly create the communal experience I had last Sunday as audience members were passing around Kleenex and watching fairy-tale characters not unlike themselves deal with community responsibility in the aftermath of a disaster. Truly energized, spectators leapt to their feet at play’s end, but I was emotionally wrecked and could barely move.

(from left) Andy Grotelueschen as Rapunzel's Prince and Alison Cimmet as Witch on ladder, with the company, in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, in a reimagining by Fiasco Theater, directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, in a production that originated at McCarter Theatre Center. Into the Woods runs July 12 - Aug. 17, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.Now I am left to wonder if the same outcome would have happened with super-human atypical Broadway voices (don’t get me wrong, everyone was on pitch and some voices were downright lovely); I felt as if I knew these characters—I could relate to them and their journey on a whole new level, which is quite a feat considering my familiarity with many of the tongue-twisting lyrics and shrewd dialogue. Most astounding is that Fiasco fixed two problematic issues from productions past, including the end of the Witch’s song, “Last Midnight,” and the presence of a giant. But remedies are of no concern to first-time viewers, who I highly doubt will be split in opinion as spectators have been with other revivals. While some may find themselves more choked up than others, you can’t fool an audience and its word-of-mouth: The Globe has already announced an extension.

Emily Young as Little Red Ridinghood and Noah Brody as Wolf in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, in a reimagining by Fiasco Theater, directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, in a production that originated at McCarter Theatre Center. Into the Woods runs July 12 - Aug. 17, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.

photos by Jim Cox

Ben Steinfeld as Baker and Alison Cimmet as Witch with (background) Andy Grotelueschen and Matt Castle in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, in a reimagining by Fiasco Theater, directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, in a production that originated at McCarter Theatre Center. Into the Woods runs July 12 - Aug. 17, 2014 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.Into the Woods
Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
The Old Globe in Balboa Park
Tues & Wed at 7:00; Thurs & Fri at 8:00;
Sat at 2:00 and 8:00; Sun at 2:00 and 7:00
scheduled to end on August 17, 2014
for tickets, call 619.234-5623
or visit The Old Globe

{ 1 comment }

Michael August 1, 2014 at 7:11 am

My family and I were mesmerized by the ambiance and setting of the play! The interpretation, while keeping to the script, was unlike anything we have seen before. The actors drew us in and allowed us to sense their plight while their humor would catch us off guard and make things light again. While they brought their own interpretations to the script we left with an interpretation that related closely to our own life. My wife expressed frustrations in her life which keeps her from moving forward. “No more giants” is her new mantra. Thank you for a wonderful experience!

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