For those who grew up listening to fairytales, the term “happily ever after” usually signals the end of the story. But in the Old Town Temecula Community Theater’s rendition of “Into the Woods,” happily ever after is just the beginning.
The 1986 Tony-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim was inspired by Bruno Bettelheim’s 1976 book, “The Uses of Enchantment,” and intertwines several Brothers Grimm fairytales in order to explore the consequences of wishes.
The narrator, played by John Edward Clark, notes that wishes are more important than life itself to three sets of characters: Cinderella wishes to attend the King’s Festival; an impoverished Jack wishes that his cow, Milky-White, would give milk; and the Baker and his wife wish they could have a child.
However, the Baker and his wife are informed by a witch that she has placed a curse on the family, making them unable to bear children after the Baker’s father had stolen from the witch’s garden, making off with some of her magic beans. The witch also imprisoned the Baker’s sister, Rapunzel, in a tower hidden deep in the forest.
The curse will be lifted if the Baker and his wife can find four ingredients the witch needs for a certain potion – “the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn and the slipper pure as gold” – within three days. The witch cannot touch any of these ingredients or the potion will not work.
All begin journeys into the woods: Jack’s mother sends him to the market to sell his beloved Milky-White and Cinderella escapes to the festival. Little Red Riding Hood goes to her grandmother’s house and is stalked by a hungry wolf along the way.
Once all the characters have gone into the woods, their stories blend together. Cinderella’s gold shoes, Jack’s Milky-White, Rapunzel’s hair and Little Red Riding Hood’s cape are the perfect ingredients needed by the Baker and his wife, so the duo try to steal and scheme the items from their fellow fairytale characters.
By the end of the first act, the Baker and his wife have successfully retrieved all the ingredients for the potion; Jack has made several trips up the beanstalk and has killed the Giant; and Cinderella and Rapunzel have gotten two charming but shallow Princes to fall in love with them.
Everyone congratulates themselves at being able to live happily “Ever After.”
Cleverly placed smoke machines and strobe lights added an element of magic and mystery, and for the most part, the characters were on point. However, some lines were lost with microphone problems and faces were unrecognizable for key scenes, leaving the audience guessing.
By the second act, everyone is living happily: the Baker and his wife have their precious baby, Jack and his mother are rich and well-fed and Cinderella is living with her Prince Charming in the palace.
However, there are cracks in the happy façade. Cinderella and Rapunzel’s fickle princes are infatuated with Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, and Riding Hood has a chip on her shoulder, wielding a knife under her new wolf cape. Jack needs help hiding from the Giantess, who is seeking revenge for her husband, killed by Jack in Act 1.
Several main characters, including the narrator, are conveniently stomped or squished out of the picture by the Giantess, while those that remain learn how important it is to enjoy the lives they have instead of wishing for more.
All in all, direction from Matthew McGill and a likable cast made “Into the Woods” an enjoyable show, with only a few dragging scenes that felt like glorified chorus breaks. Even the snooty princes’ exits brought laughs with impressive twirls and pirouettes offstage.
It was obvious that a lot of thought was put into set design, costuming and blocking, and it paid off by delivering a play that was enjoyable for everyone.
For upcoming events at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater, go to http://www.temeculatheater.org.
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