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Achieving a Fairy-Tale Effect

Fullerton College's revival of 'Into the Woods' shows what a kick it is to play the storybook characters for fun in this solid, well-sung production.

March 12, 1997|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — Maybe it's because we are seeing it on campus. But attending "Into the Woods" at Fullerton College, it becomes clear that Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine re-imagining of the European fairy tale--in all its darkness, hopes, nightmares and dreams--is an unashamedly instructional work.

Where other Sondheim shows suggest, "Into the Woods" shows and tells. It even instructs us on instructing others:

Careful the things you say:

Children will listen.

Careful the things you do:

Children will see.

And learn.

When the show opened 10 years ago, some critics saw this streak as a fatal flaw. But this revival, directed by Gary Krinke, indicates that "Into the Woods" has the musical and narrative spine, and the stylistic nerve, to have outlasted such concerns. This is a show that knows it's good for you, but it is also good, sometimes great, theater.

And it can be fun, which is what Krinke's staging emphasizes. His student cast doesn't dive into the deep end of this musical. Instead, it has put across what a kick it is to play Cinderella (Tara Lyn Brown), Jack of beanstalk fame (Joseph H. Saenz), Little Red Riding Hood (Amy Walker), Rapunzel (Jill S. Luevano) and the Baker and his Wife (Brian C. Guthrie and Lisa Christine McManus) and to have them all meet for adventures in the woods.

These actors aren't into Big Symbolism, but they do know how to make their fairy-tale characters modern. McManus is especially impressive: Her beautiful, funny "Moments in the Woods" captures every emotion of the spouse who has cheated on his or her partner, half enjoying it, half guilty as hell. If one number encapsulates the production, this is it.

As McManus' other half, Guthrie reveals a growing sense of fear as well as inner strength as events spin out of control in the cataclysmic second act (the act after the first act ends "happily ever after"). Brown is pure grace and light on her feet as Cinderella, while Walker and Saenz have a great time making trouble.

*

All are fine singers, and Amberly-Susann Williams, potent as the Witch, delivers as professional a performance as one is likely to see on a college stage anywhere. Trying to band the characters together to fend off the Giant, this regal Witch is more patient than peeved by the indecisive, lesser mortals.

One flaw: Musical director Jo Anne Monteleone has opted for a synthesizer performance of Sondheim's rich score, a decision that badly damages the charm exuded everywhere else. Equal to the task, though, is the rest of the production, from Chuck Ketter's storybook-style set to Mela Hoyt-Heydon's ambitious and beautifully detailed costumes.

* "Into the Woods," Bronwyn Dodson Theatre, Fullerton College, 1100 N. Lemon St. Thursday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends Sunday. $7-$10. (714) 871-8101. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

Amberly-Susann Williams: Witch

Bryan C. Guthrie: Baker

Tara Lyn Brown: Cinderella

Lisa Christine McManus: Baker's Wife

Amy Walker: Little Red Riding Hood

Joseph H. Saenz: Jack

Frank Romeo: Rapunzel's Prince

Greg Hayes: Cinderella's Prince

Steven Biggs: Narrator/Mysterious Man

Nicole Poole: Jack's Mother

A Fullerton College production of a musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, directed by Gary Krinke. Musical director: Jo Anne Monteleone. Choreographer: John Vaughan. Costumes and makeup: Mela Hoyt-Heydon. Set: Chuck Ketter. Lights: Steven Pliska.

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