Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
For those who may not be familiar with this now-iconic work, Stephen Sondheim and book writer James Lapine crafted a tale that features an array of characters from a variety of fairy tales: Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and others. All these (and others) appear in a new story about a Baker and his Wife, childless because of a curse placed on them by their Witch neighbor. To break the curse they must venture into the woods to find "the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold" and bring them back to the Witch.
The deeper story of Into The Woods, however, is about human desire: wishing for things we can't have, and getting the things we wish for, but then being disappointed or instantly wishing for more or different things. There's also an interesting Ayn Randian subtext that runs through the story, most succinctly communicated by the Baker's Wife when she sings, "If you know what you want, you go and you find it and you get it." Almost no one here looks out for anyone's interest but their own.
The NTC cast is overall solid, but it would be hard to wish for a better Witch than Daniela Innocenti Beem, who hits all her notes with tremendous power and a delightful sense of the comic. Also deserving praise for the delicacy and grace of their performances are Julianne Thompson Bretan, who gives us a delightfully vulnerable yet capable Cinderella, and Krista Joy Sherpa as Little Red Riding Hood, who is especially wonderful in one of her later scenes with Jack.
Though some of the singers are pitchy at times, they unite well as a chorus and maintain their energy throughout the 2-1/2 hour performance.
Unfortunately, this committed and sincere cast is let down by rather flaccid efforts from director Kim Bromley and choreographer Alison Peltz. There's a definite lack of dynamism and little inspiration in how the performers are placed on the stage. It's flat and unimaginative (rather like Frank Sarubbi's lighting design).
On the positive side, David Shirk's set design is quite lovely. The simple shapes of the trees with bold lines suggesting bark have a wonderful graphic novel quality that blends beautifully with Sondheim's music and Lapine's story.
Into The Woods runs through November 22, 2015, at the Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $27 general, $24 for seniors and students, 21 for NTC members and $12 for children under 12. Tickets and additional information are available at www.novatotheatercompany.org or by calling 415-883-4498.