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Mountain Play Review - Into the Woods

Back on Mount Tam - Into the Woods

Address: Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre
Mill Valley, CA 94945
Phone: 435-383-1100

“Into the Woods” — Fantasy and life lessons

Review: Judith M. Wilson

Photos: Ed Smith Photography

The woods can be a dark, forbidding place, filled with unknown dangers. But at the same time, those who summon the courage to explore unfamiliar territory might find new opportunities, come out stronger and even make dreams come true. That’s one of the themes of the award-winning musical Into the Woods, this year’s Mountain Play, which is set in Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre beneath the tall evergreens of Mt. Tamalpais. Another answers a question: What happens following happily ever after?

With book by James Lapine and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the story makes clever use of fairy tales, and it takes several, including Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel, and reinvents them with the addition of three new characters, a witch, who sets the plot in motion, and the baker and his wife, who move in and out of the other stories as they embark on a quest to break the witch’s curse, bringing all the storylines together. A narrator, played by Ilán Casian-Issenberg, provides commentary and fills in the gaps.

Act I follows classic fairy-tale format with a few twists, and Nicole Helfer’s deft direction allows the somewhat complex story to unfold smoothly, as she carefully choregraphs the activity so that characters cross paths, encounter conflict, find interests in common, go their separate ways, and eventually find their way to their desired conclusions. Act II is a departure from classic fairy tales as it looks at what comes next for characters who learn that dreams come true sometimes aren’t the happy endings they expected. Fairy tales usually have a dark side, but here the story gets more gritty, as it picks up where the Brothers Grimm ended and tackles death, infidelity and child abandonment, as well as the consequences of one’s actions.

Photo: Rapunzel, played by Shayla Lawler, lets down her hair.The Mountain Play cast makes the story meaningful and fun. Kevin

Singer plays the hapless baker, and Melissa Wolfklain plays his competent, take-charge wife. Celeste Kamiya plays a flaky Little Red Riding Hood, who doesn’t stick to the prescribed path and regrets it later, while Jack, portrayed by Cachi Delgado, is attached to the family cow, Milky-White, played by Luke Hichman aboard a white bicycle, but gives her up anyway in exchange for a handful of beans. Lily White is the voice of the cleverly contrived giant, who wreaks havoc in Act II.

Music, with musical director leading the orchestra alongside the stage, plays an important role, with the songs helping to bring together the various stories. Your Fault is a lively tune that brings together Jack, Little Red Riding Hood, the Witch, the Baker and Cinderella, as they look back at events that have brought them together, while Children Will Listen, the Act II finale, is more contemplative.

Into the Woods feature two princes: (l. to r.) Christopher as Rapunzel’s Prince and Philip Harris as Cinderella’s Prince.

At first glance, the set is a puzzle. It’s a wooden structure made up of platforms and staircases that might give the initial impression that it’s unfinished. It’s functional, however, because it allows characters to enter, exist, ascend, descend and look down from above as the action requires, and since most people are familiar with fairy tales, one’s imagination can fill in the details as the story moves from scene to another. It serves as the bakery, Rapunzel’s’ tower, Red Riding Hood’s home, the prince’s castle and Jack’s garden with the beanstalk leading to the giant’s lair, and Andrea Bechert’s scenic design provides the flexibility to accommodate all of them.

Samantha Cardenas, glass slipper in hand, is decked out for the prince’s ball.

Amie Schow’s costume design is imaginative and reflects the character’s personalities. Cinderella’s ballgown has simple lines yet is elaborate and fit for a princess, while Little Red Riding’s second cape, which replaces one she’s lost, adds the wolf’s fate to the story. The witch’s change of attire underscores her transformation.

The Mountain Play once again delivers, with a compelling story, strong acting, music that reflects the changing moods, creative visual effects and effective direction to bring all the pieces together into a cohesive whole. And it all takes place in the woods.

Into the Woods runs on May 28, June 4, 10, 11 and 18. For tickets and information on pre-show activities and transportation, go to mountainplay.org or call 415-383-1100.

Grease, Mountain Play 2019. Photo: Eileen Grady