Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Into the Woods
Also see Patrick's recent review of The Beat Goes On
If you've never seen Into the Woods, it's a marvelous mashup of fairy tale tropes, featuring some the genre's most recognizable characters: Rapunzel, Little Red Ridinghood, Jack (of beanstalk fame) and a Prince Charming. And everyone, it seems, has a wish they want fulfilled. Jack and his mother are destitute and wish their cow, Milky White will give milk, Little Red wishes for bread to take to Grandma's house, and Cinderella wants to go to the king's festival. Their stories are tied together by a Baker and his wife who desperately want a child, but a curse placed on them by the Witch next door has left them barren. To lift the curse, the Witch sends the couple on a quest to retrieve "the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold." You can see immediately the role these traditional fairy tale characters will play in the Baker's mission. So, Into the Woods they go.
There they will meet Jack (Cole Thompson), off to sell poor Milky White at market. Milky White is an oddly adorable puppet, controlled by Kenneth Kanagawa with such skill that audible sighs of despair were heard when Jack and his beloved pet are parted. The Baker (Sebastian Arcelus) finds Little Red (Katy Geraghty) in the woods–but they've met before, when she came to the Baker's house seeking goodies to take to Grandma, which she gathers with such avidity you'd think they were gold nuggets.
On her way to Grandma's house, Little Red runs into yes, the Big Bad Wolf, played by Gavin Creel with equal parts appetite and predation. Later on, the Baker's wife (the supremely talented and hysterically funny Stephanie J. Block) happens on Rapunzel's (Alysia Velez) tower, and the couple soon have two of the four items they need to satisfy the curse of the Witch (played with a joyous sense of menace by Felicia Curry).
But quests are boring without obstacles standing in the way, and the Baker and his wife will find and lose and re-find the four items before they get to the end of act one, where everything seems to fall in place so perfectly for a "happily ever after" ending that the couple behind me thought the show was over. But just when you think this is a happy ending, here comes act two, where things get quite a bit darker.
Yet, even when characters begin to be crushed under the foot of the giant's wife (angered by Jack's theft of the harp and a hen that lays golden eggs), director Lear deBessonet keeps things relatively light. In fact, she finds humor throughout the show, but especially in act one, and especially from an amazing performance by Katy Geraghty as Little Red. Her tone can shift from charming little girl to Satan's handmaiden faster than you can say "morning bun," and she has an absolutely killer slow burn that is put to good use on multiple occasions.
The other standouts in this talented and nicely balanced cast include Block (who had the audience roaring in a scene in which she gets a kiss from Cinderella's Prince–also the amazing Gavin Creel–that gets her hips grinding in a way that slayed us all) and the aforementioned Creel. His portrayal of the Prince is a master class in playing clueless egoism. And he also absolutely kills it in his duet with his younger brother, Rapunzel's Prince (Jason Forbach), in one of the show's best songs, "Agony." (Which is also one of the very few duets written for two men.)
As in life, not all wishes come true–and even those that do don't always end up with endless sunshine and eternal smiles. But if you've wished for a wondrous production of one of Sondheim's most popular works, you can't go wrong with this effort. But hurry–it's only at the Curran through the 25th of the month.
Into the Woods runs through June 25, 2023, at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets range from $69-$279. For tickets and information, please visit www.broadwaysf.com or the Curran box office. For more information on the tour, visit intothewoodsbway.com