Regional Theater Review: INTO THE WOODS (3-D Theatricals in Fullerton)

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by Tony Frankel on May 7, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

INTO THE WORDS

For his production of Into the Woods, director T.J. Dawson notes that Stephen Sondheim’s score is often revered as genius. “However, many of his incredible lyrics rush by most of us before we can fully take them in.” Unfortunately, this accurately describes the experience watching 3-D Theatricals’ version of the popular 1987 musical (the West Coast is seeing five major productions in the next two months alone).

Jeff Skowron is The Baker and Viva Carr is his Wife in 3-D Theatricals' INTO THE WOODS.By mashing up a slew of well-known fairy tales, Sondheim and librettist James Lapine caution us to beware of what we wish for—once happy endings arrive, there will be consequences for what we had to do to get there. While the storytelling is fairly easy to follow—a Baker and his Wife search for four objects necessary to break a witch’s curse—it can be daunting for a first-timer to keep up with over 25 intertwining characters, including Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack, and Rapunzel, as they search for their desires among the darkness of gnarled trees. But Sondheim’s tricky lyrics, many of them filled with significant exposition, do indeed fly by with the speed of a witch’s broom. So it’s a shame that outstanding conductor Julie Lamoureux and her Broadway-caliber orchestra consistently collided with Julie Ferrin’s atrociously botched sound design. This, combined with a few actors thinking that character voice and clipped diction are mutually exclusive, made for a most frustrating evening when Sondheim’s raps and patters took center stage.

The cast of 3-D Theatricals' INTO THE WOODS.Fortunately, some of the songs slow down enough for the lyrics to come through, although I can’t for the life of me understand why the orchestra was so loud. It was in the slower moments that some of the show shined: Two princes (Tim Martin Gleason and Cameron Sczempka) sharing the “Agony” of searching for the right princess; the Baker’s Wife (stouthearted Viva Carr) analyzing her choices after a “Moment in the Woods”; and the Baker (vulnerable Jeff Skowron) running from his responsibilities after declaring he can take “No More” strife.

Tim Martin Gleason and Julie Morgentaler in 3-D Theatricals' INTO THE WOODS.I’m surprised the “Costumes Provided By California Musical Theatre” weren’t credited to Ann Hould-Ward, the original Broadway designer. Not only does this crew look like the original cast, but they often try to act like them too, right down to vocal inflection. That works for some, but Bets Malone is channeling Bernadette Peters somehow as the Witch while she ends up screaming and acts like she’s out of breath. While Tracy Rowe Mutz is one of the few who actually creates a new person as Jack’s frustrated Mother, she and Malone are largely unintelligible. Everything looks familiar here, so only those who have never gone Into the Woods before are cautiously advised to take this journey.

Cameron Sczempka & Tim Martin Gleason are The Princes in 3-D Theatricals' INTO THE WOODS.Inadvertently complicating the production was Tom Buderwitz’ gorgeous arboreal set, which must have cost a bloody fortune. With movable homes, ramps, and trees that spun and rolled on a turntable, I thought at first that the set was rented from a Broadway revival. But when loud creaking noises were heard, I assumed it was borrowed from a long-gone regional production. Wrong on both counts. Brand new. Jean-Yves Tessier lit the dry ice exquisitely, making for stunning stage pictures, but the ramps made for some awkward up and down blocking and caused clomping from the stepsisters’ shoes to be magnified.

Betts Malone as The Witch beckons Rapunzel (Christanna Rowader) in 3-D Theatricals' INTO THE WOODS.Extra rehearsal time and previews may have resolved technical issues, but the production values are so ginormous that Dawson ends up traffic cop more than director. Many of his actors squeeze, push, and force character like they’re trying to get milk from a dry cow.

Some of my most amazing musical theater experiences in the last four years were intimate productions that put freshness into even the most stale of Broadway shows. 3DT has done significantly wonderful work in the past, but remember what happened when Jason Alexander took over as artistic director of Reprise, and it got too big to survive financially: Boom. Crunch.

photos by Isaac James Creative

Into the Woods
3-D Theatricals
Plummer Auditorium
201 E. Chapman Ave. in Fullerton
scheduled to end on May 18, 2014
for tickets, call 714.589.2770 x 1 or visit www.3dtshows.com

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Michael M. Landman-Karny May 12, 2014 at 10:23 pm

The acoustics of the 1940’s era auditorium are partially to blame for the bad sound. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a show at the Plummer where every lyric was audible.

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