Everybody loves to go Into The Woods. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's fractured fairy tale opened on Broadway in 1987 and has never gotten old. But it's long. People seeing the show for the first time are always confused when the rest of the audience is not standing and cheering at the end of million-dollar Act One. Why is the cast not taking their well-deserved bows?
Well, Pilgrim, it ain't over 'til the Witch says it is. Act One gives us the happy ending and then comes Act Two, where real life takes over. The giant's wife is gunning for Jack. Cinderella is bored out of her mind. The baker's baby never stops crying and the princes aren't so charming.
There are two kinds of audiences who come to musicals. One camp wants something new and different and one wants the same old thing. Sondheim is not for Group Two. He makes you think while letting you laugh. He gives you melodies, but the lyrics always come first so the music doesn't stick so easily. This is a three hour show with perhaps three hummable songs. Of course, those three ("Into the Woods," "Agony" and "No One is Alone") burrow like blind mice into your brain and stay there for days.
Susi Damilano's first try at directing a musical makes her look like a natural. Act One flies, Act Two has a few fits and starts, but that's the way the show is written.
The cast is fabulous, especially Monique Hafen as foot-sore Cinderella, Corinne Proctor as the effervescent Red, Jeffrey Brian Adams as the charming-but-not-sincere Prince and El Beh as the baker's wife who finds there are other tasty buns out in the woods.
Of course, there is danger as well as magic when you venture away from home. The show will run for much of the summer and is bound to draw large crowds, so we suggest you buy tickets soon. And when you come to the theatre, look around on Post Street - some of those folks you see may just need a kiss to release their curses. Let us know how that turns out.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Into the Woods" Four Stars. The truth is, if the show had stopped after Act One that rarely seen Fifth Star was within reach. But the show has always both entranced and dragged in the second act.
Four Stars is magic too. And Dave Dobrusky's live music enriches the whole experience. Get thee to the Woods.
"Into the Woods"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco
Through September 6