- Terelle Jerricks
By John Farrell
The Long Beach Playhouse, after many years of straight plays, has ventured into the world of musical comedy twice in the past six or so months. Their first comedy was a spectacularly successful and critically acclaimed production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Now they have come back with that same author’s work, but very different from the first, Into the Woods, which opened to a sold-out house at the Playhouse last weekend. It continues there through July 29.
Into the Woods is a very complicated story, with five classical fairy tales being told at once in James Lapine’s skillful book. There’s Red Ridinghood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, The Baker and His Wife and Rapunzel, all venturing out of their everyday lives to try to make them better. And they do it all with exciting and skillful music. Director Gregory Cohan uses the Mainstage’s modified thrust stage to great effect, using it as a place for everyone to sing and act at once, while using the stairs to the seats for exits and entrances. And for added measure, the cast occasionally talk directly to the audience.
The first act ends with everyone living happily ever after. The second act tells what happens after. The giant’s wife comes to kill the man who killed her husband. Prince Charming,who, as he says, was only taught to be charming, not sincere, cheats on Cinderella with the baker’s wife and Rapunzel meets the same fate. The stories don’t end happily ever after after all.
Musicals are making a comeback at the Playhouse, and this one introduces a large and mostly new cast to the venerable Long Beach institution, with fourteen of the seventeen cast members making their debut there. And unlike the Broadway production many years ago, this Into the Woods is not star-driven. Instead it is a collegial work, with everyone, from Cinderella (Meaghan Gates) to the cow wrangler (the non-speaking role shared by Genevieve Grady-Grot and Hayden Brogdon) playing deliciously close to the audience. Especially effective is Michelle Selina as the witch, transformed from an ugly harridan to a sexy presence when she loses her magical power, and Owen Lovejoy who plays the everyman baker. The rest of the cast is equally effective.
Into the Woods is a lively play, full of Sondheim’s biting lyrics set to a first-rate score. It shows that the Playhouse can now and again be taken seriously for musicals as well as plays.
Tickets are $24, $21 for seniors, $14 for students. Performances are Friday, July 6 at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 7 at 8p.m., Sunday, July 8 at 2 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 28.
Details: (562) 494-1014, www.lbplayhouse.org
Venue: Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre
Location: 5021 E. Anaheim, Long Beach