Thursday, December 01, 2005

Into the Woods

After all the hopes, the dreams and the plans. After years of stop and start progress and frustrating delays, Jan and Steve Isaacson finally welcomed Davis Musical Theater Company’s loyal audience to the first production in the new Hoblit Center for the Performing arts, at 607 Pena Street in Davis on Friday night.

There was the smell of fresh paint throughout the building, and places that still need to be painted or stained or carpeted. The curtains had only been hung the night before and the wrinkles were still falling out of the grand drape. The acoustic designer won’t get to work until everything is in place, but the show must go on, and go on it did.

“Into the Woods,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, was the opener. Sondheim shows are not necessarily easy under the best of circumstances and I fully expected there would be lots of glitches with this opening night performance and was prepared to be forgiving because of all the work that the company has been putting in trying to get the theater ready.

I was pleasantly surprised. If there were glitches, other than a couple of faulty light cues, I was unaware of them. The set, designed by Woodrow & IvyMoss, with its stark spiky trees for the forest and the traditional wagon sets for Cinderella’s home (later the palace), the home of Jack (of Beanstalk fame), and the bakery where the baker and his wife long for a child were perfect for the Hoblit stage. (And the scene change from houses to forest was great!)

The DMTC orchestra, under the direction of Erik Daniells, now has its own pit and the difference in sound was amazing. I’ve never heard them sound better.

There will be some adjustments that will have to be made as the performers learn how to project out over an orchestra rather than one which is backstage on a platform, as it has been for years. Some of the actors handled this change better than others. Most could use a bit more oomph in their delivery for spoken lines.

However, that said, this is a good production.

“Into The Woods” was Stephen Sondheim’s attempt to prove that not everything he wrote had to be heavy, loaded with gloom and doom and psychological undertones, and that he could also write light hearted material.

Act One weaves together the stories of many familiar tales from our childhood. Cinderella (Rosie Babich) sits at home with her stepmother (Monique McKisson) and two stepsisters (Dannette Vassar and Stacia Truesdale), longing to go to the Prince’s ball.

Next door, Jack (Steven Ross) and his mother (Jannette Kragen) are arguing over selling Jack’s beloved cow, Milky White (playing herself).

Rounding out the families is the Baker (Ryan Adame) and his wife (Kristen Wagner), who are disappointed that they have not yet conceived a child.

Into the mix comes Little Red (Jocelyn Price) on her way to bring goodies to Granny (Melissa Tolley). There are a couple of princes, Cinderella’s Prince (Bob Olson) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Ryan Favorite). And of course Rapunzel is there too (Jessica Hammon) along with the witch who is keeping her captive (Marguerite Morris). Binding it all together is Steve Isaacson, as the Narrator

It is an excellent cast with few weak performers. Those who rise above the rest are Price, whose Little Red is energetic and cute as a button. Babich as Cinderella gives an outstanding performance, as do Adame and Wagner, as the Baker and his wife. Both princes have strong voices and are quite regal on stage (well, perhaps except for that rolling around on the floor in an illicit encounter business).

Marguerite Morris gives her usual first-rate performance. She is at her best when singing, but needs to work more on projection in her spoken lines.

Melissa Tolley is the offstage voice of the wife of the Giant that Jack killed. It is unfortunate that some sort of amplification was not used for the voice. It should have sounded more scary.

Act 2 of “Into the Woods” shows us that there really is no “happily ever after,” and many characters meet horrible ends. However, for purposes of this production, they all died gloriously.

Director Jan Isaacson was beaming in the lobby after the show ended, saying “I just can’t believe we’re finally here.” After all this time, she must feel like she is living her own kind of fairy tale. It is this reviewer’s hope that, unlike most of the characters in “Into the Woods,” the Davis Musical Theater Company has finally found its “happily ever after” and that they, along with their loyal patrons, can enjoy it for years to come.

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