The WOODS have taken over the Golden Gate stage this month, yes down the street “Hamilton” is stealing the steam from the Giant, but this new production of INTO THE WOODS is gorgeous. Dark fairy tales and imagination are central to Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical INTO THE WOODS but this new staging production from New York City's Fiasco Theater takes that artistry to a finesse level. It is now on stage at SHN’s Golden Gate theatre through April 2nd. As you walk into the theatre you don’t see the Woods, you can tell this won’t be a typical production: there is no orchestra; the company creates all the music. Directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld they use a sparkling cast of 10 actor-musicians and accomplished music director pianist Evan Rees. The production is a strip down version of the Fairy Tales, and it means the audience will have a lot to imagine and enjoy in a musical that goes in many compelling directions.

“Once upon a time”, as the story begins, is really about two men who wrote a musical; Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics, and James Lapine’s extraordinary book which received three Tony Awards and much praise including a Disney film version in 2014. This fairy tale about Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, a witch and a baker and his wife retold is superb. The iconic tales are linked together with narrative, story and music and the first act ends with “Living Happily Ever After” and the audience almost feels like going home. Yet the second act has some of the best songs and Lapine takes us on a dark ride into the woods. When things should get better, they get worse. The players go into the woods to find the solutions to their fears and needs, but end up meeting themselves.

This wonderful production is much like bare bones hits such as John Doyle’s “Sweeney Todd.” These actors do it all, and they are sizzling. The memorable Eleasha Gamble brings the Baker's Wife to the stage with perfection. Gamble has a fantastic singing voice and the ability to play the comic scenes. The riveting Patrick Mulryan looks to be the brightest actor in the show. He has a beautiful singing voice and plays young Jack as the classic adventurous hero. It’s a small troupe for a big story musical; the dedicated Music Director and pianist Evan Rees, and the ten performers playing more than seventeen roles, including the task of set changes and playing instruments is impressive. You don’t need to be a fan of the original production to understand this streamlined version. As actors change roles with little or no costume changes it never feels rushed, the switches are smooth, as when the likable Lisa Helmi Johanson transforms from Rapunzel to Riding Hood while keeping each of her characters fully realized.

This cast has winning talent filled with pitch perfect singers and actors. The robust Darick Pead plays three characters, showing his strength as Rapunzel's Prince and a powerhouse voice in “Agony” with Anthony Chatmon as Cinderella's Prince. Pead also shows his comic excellence as Milky White and his perfect cow bell. With just a curtain tossed over him he plays Florinda, one of the evil stepsisters. Chatmon is at his best as the Wolf pursuing Little Red Riding Hood. He shines in the stalking song, "Hello, Little Girl." Chatmon also plays Lucinda, the second step sister, and he is just as funny.

The Fiasco Theatre craft team is awesome including Derek McLane's scenic design. Within a false proscenium, that is made of piano keys, and grand piano carcasues cascade down the side walls to frame the set with foreshadowing. Beautiful chandeliers hang above the stage, the back wall is a forest of ropes, and loose pieces of random stage shtick including a grandfather clock, a stepladder. Rees' upright piano flies around the set as the company floats it around the Woods. Christopher Akerlind's lighting design is moody and with green and blue fill light creates the perfect Woods and effective shadows for the Giant.

Whitney Locher's costumes are mostly mood of white and sand with scarves and capes as needed. The sparkling ball gown for Cinderella, played by Laurie Veldheer, and the patchwork throw cape for the Witch, Vanessa Reseland, wears are stunning. Many of the props are simple and fun including just a branch for the famous wand and stick horses for the prince’s elegant monty python entrances. The sound design by Darron L. West and Charles Coes is deep and effective as the Giant brings darkness to Sondheim's famous second act.

Photo Credit: JOAN MARCUS Stephanie Umoh as the Witch in Into The Woods.

This production of INTO THE WOODS includes all the original songs and they are infectious. “I Know Things Now” featuring Johanson’s first rate voice, and “Last Midnight” song by the enthusiastic Stephanie Umoh. The cast members work so closely together and their timing and freshness is flawless. The directors bring the audience the inside joke in creating the stage illusions. Simple pieces of paper become a flock of birds, as a flute brings them to life. The Wolf, Anthony Chatmon, stalks little Red with a simple crouch behind a wolf's head, and Bonne Kramer creates the realistic crying baby that will catch you off guard. The two hour and forty five minute musical moves fast and the sold out opening night audience cheered many of the iconic moments of this restaged broadway hit.

Fiasco Theater’s restaging of this classic is beautiful, sharp, creative, and well worth your visit back to the Woods or make this your first visit to this to see the Giant. Fiasco Theater has set a new standard for how to tell an old story in a new way. “Into the Woods” has always been a grown-up fairy tale, it reminds us that the best child tales do not have happy endings but take us on a real journey to who we are. “Children Will Listen” and each time we go “INTO THE WOODS there is more to learn. SHN is offering 35.00 rush seats. Download the TodayTix app to unlock the Rush ticketing feature for INTO THE WOODS by sharing on Facebook or Twitter through the app. Check back in the app at 9:00am for access to exclusive day-of $35 Rush tickets for every performance. Limited number of Rush tickets per performance. Also $35 IN-PERSON RUSH a limited number of $35 Rush tickets will be available for every performance beginning 2 hours prior to curtain at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre Box Office. Tickets are subject to availability, cash only. You need to rediscover go back into the woods.

SHN and Fiasco Theater Present


By Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine,

Directed by Noah Brody and Ben Stienfeld

Music Director Evan Reese

Only through: April 2

Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St. San Francisco

Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes, 1 intermission

Tickets: $60-$275.

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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus


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