Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

An Enchanting Production of Into the Woods
San Francisco Playhouse

Also see Richard's review of Each and Every Thing

Maureen McVeery and Tim Homsley
Once again I have been bewitched by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's fractured fairy tale musical Into the Woods, currently being presented by the San Francisco Playhouse. This is an ambitious undertaking and they have done themselves proud. The performances are beautifully detailed and the lyrics are mined for every nuance. It is non-stop pure pleasure, running two hours and half.

I am not sure how many times I have seen this clever musical, starting in 1987 at the Martin Beck Theatre with Bernadette Peters playing the Witch and Joanna Gleason playing the Baker's Wife, plus the London production with Julia McKenzie and the Broadway revival with Vanessa Williams as the Witch. The San Francisco Playhouse production is on par with those productions. The company has pulled out all the stops to make this a first class production. There are no weak performances; each actor has great theatrical presence with marvelous vocal chops.

A silent young boy (Ian DeVaynes) is playing on stage as you enter the theater. Nina Ball's suggestive set is awesome, made to look like a forest of trees. Soon the narrator, played mischievously by Louis Parnell, enters the set and says to the boy, "Alright it's time for a story." The boy never speaks and occasionally you see him frolicking throughout the musical.

Every actor has a shining moment in this charismatic musical. Safiya Fredericks as the Witch is mesmeric with strong vocal chops, especially on "Last Midnight" and "Lament." She first appears in a heavy, gray bundle of an outfit and you can hardly see her face; later, she transforms into a stately, gorgeous woman looking a lot like Cher.

Tim Homsley gives a first-rate performance as Jack. He has a remarkable force and musical dexterity in his rendition of "Giants in the Sky" and sings it like he believes it. Maureen McVerry excels as Jack's Mother. Corinne Proctor beautifully camps Little Red Riding Hood, while Monique Hafen as Cinderella provides wit and charm with her polished voice. She has pitch perfect resonance singing "On the Steps of the Palace."

New York actor Jeffrey Brian Adams is perfect as the prancing Cinderella's Prince, exhibiting unthinking selfishness when he says, "I was raised to be charming, not sincere" and he splendidly morphs into one of the wolves, while his counterpart, Los Angeles actor Ryan McCrary as Rapunzel's Prince and a Wolf, gives an impressive performance as well. Both have vibrant voices singing "Hello, Little Girl" and "Agony."

Keith Pinto as the Baker and El Beh as the Baker's Wife are terrific in their roles. Not only do they gorgeously sing "It Takes Two" but they do some incredible foot work with the song. Louis Parnell shows excellent physical acting by appearing in the trees and at center stage. Noelani Neal gives an appealing performance as Rapunzel.

Others who shine in this fast-paced musical are Bekka Fink as Cinderella's Stepmother, and Lily Drexler and Michelle Drexler as her two wicked daughters. John Paul Gonzales rounds out the cast nicely as the Steward (he will be playing Jack from August 25 to September 6).

Choreography by Kimberly Richards is spot on and energetic while lighting by Michael Oesch is inventive. Special notice to Theodore J.H. Hulsker who provides awesome sound for the Giant's movements. It sounds like an earthquake is occurring throughout the theatre.

David Dobrusky on piano strikingly leads an eight-piece orchestra behind Nina Ball's breathtaking set. They never drown out the singers. Bravo to director Susi Damilano who helms this superlative production and makes it an evening to remember.

Into the Woods plays through September 6th, 2014, at The San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street (2nd floor of Kensington Park Hotel between Powell & Mason), San Francisco. For tickets 415-677-9596 or visit Coming up next will be the world premiere of From Red to Black by Rhett Rossi August 8 to August 30th at the A.C.T. Custom Shop, 1119 Market Street, San Francisco.

Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema