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The WOODS have taken over the Berkeley Playhouse stage this Holiday season. This is the welcome back musical for the East Bay Area. The Berkeley Playhouse launches their 15th season and delights live audiences with a Sondheim Tony classic; INTO THE WOODS now on the Julia Morgan stage through December 23rd. BPH Artistic Director Kimberly Dooley says “Many of us were in tears on the first day of rehearsals, it had been 18 months since our last MainStage rehearsal. We are honored to be storytellers and we are grateful to be creating again.”

Directed and Choreographed by the TBA award honored Alex Rodriguez says "Into the Woods" is one of the most respected shows in musical theater history, and I’m honored Berkeley Playhouse selected me to tell this wonderful story and help reopen its doors. Sondheim has said "Into the Woods" is about ‘community responsibility,’ and it was chosen specifically so we can explore this topic. I believe there is no better time than now to have this conversation with Bay Area audiences, told through the lens of our beautifully diverse community of actors with some magic along the way." This perfect cast brings this charming dark fairy tale to life, and Rodriguez direction brings a sprint of energy to each character. The cast of 16 is non stop energy on stage as they sprint across the woods to tell this story.

This production of INTO THE WOODS is gorgeous. Dark fairy tales and imagination are important to Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical INTO THE WOODS. This clever staging with an open forest created by designer Sarah Phykitt keeps the wings open as we see each character escape into the woods.

The Birds - controlled by the enchanting Cinderella are very important in this story and the sound design team headed by Lyle Barrere and Desired Effect made sure audio tech Eric Wood kept the birds chirping as the audience entered the Julia Morgan Theatre to find their seats. As the subtext of the birds do their job later in the story, you will be comforted with the “birds in the woods” unless they chase you.

WOODS examines that line between fantasy and reality, and the need to take responsibility for our actions. If the Baker and his wife want a child, they must break a spell cast by the town Witch, complying with her selfish requests that include a scavenger hunt through the most memorable fairytales. Some of Sondheim’s wittiest lyrics and beautiful melodies engage this show.

The sparkling cast of 16 actors and accomplished music director Kenji Higashihama and puppet designer Dave Haaz Baroque bring this musical its splendid appeal. Sondheim’s music and lyrics, and Lapine’s extraordinary book which received eight Tony Awards and much praise including a 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 is enchanting. The iconic tales are linked together with narrative, story and music and as the first act ends with “Living Happily Ever After” 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. The players go into the woods to find the solutions to their fears and needs, but end up meeting themselves.

The memorable Rebecca Pingree brings the Baker's Wife to the story with perfection. Pingree has a fantastic singing voice and the ability to play the aggressive wish this mother seeks.

The riveting Romelo Urbi plays Jack and is the brightest young actor in the show. He has a beautiful singing voice and plays the young bean stalk climber as the classic adventurous hero. His passion of heart is deep in his version of “Giants In The Sky” and “I Guess This is Goodbye”. I hope to see more of his work on Bay stages.

The rascal Little Red Riding Hood is played by the skilled Erika Cospin, she opens the show with Narrator played by the terrific perfect Anthony Rollins-Mullens and the full company.

The gifted baritone singer John Melis plays the Wolf and a prince who steals both roles with his sensational voice. Melis and the awesome David Tuttle are sizzling in the duet “Agony”. Melis is at his best as the Wolf pursuing Little Red Riding Hood. He shines in the stalking song, "Hello, Little Girl."

The powerhouse Alexis Lazear as the Witch brings passion to the heartrending aria “Stay With Me,” toward the end of the first act. As she explodes into her younger self in the second act, dazzling in costume designer Katie Dowse form-fitting gowns, she builds to an impressive rendition of “Last Midnight” while keeping her character fully realized. Dowse gowns for the cast are eye candy in this already beautiful show.

This cast has winning talent filled with pitch perfect singers and acting. Local favorite Reggie D White returns to the BPH as the Baker and proves his Broadway talent with the song “No More” with Mullens as the Old Man.

A show stopper in this already talented cast is the phenomenal Marah Sotelo who plays the smart Cinderella, she sings “On The Steps of the Palace” and will bring you to cheers. Sotelo duets with Pingree as the Baker's wife and Cinderella enthusiastically sing “A Very Nice Prince”. The busy Amy Bouchard also plays Jacks mom who has many humorous moments as she disciplines Jack and begs the Giant will not harm him. Jill Collister will resume the role of Jacks mom soon.

The damsel in distress Rapunzel is played by the impressive Serene Hammami - with her howling tears and locks of gold she sings a moving “Our Little World” with Lazear. The amusing Amy Bouchard plays both Granny and Cinderella’s mother and is dressed in a lovely fun teacup gown.

The bright Melinda Camero plays Florinda, and the entertaining Jasmine Cook as Lucinda the evil stepsisters who are both very funny. Christopher Sotelo adds to the comic side of the story as the trusty Steward to the Royals, he needed some coconuts - but that's a different musical.

Director Rodriguez brings haunting puppeteer Dave Haaz Baroque to create and animate Milky cow and the lovely Wolf. John Bernard's lighting design is moody with green and blue with pools of lights for the perfect dark Woods and effective shadows for the Giant. Bernard's lighting is easily one of the characters in this story. Many of the props by Peet Cocke 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 goes deeper and red as the Giant voiced by the brilliant Jessica Coker brings darkness to Sondheim's famous second act.

The two act, two and half hour musical moves fast and the sold out opening night audience cheered many of the iconic moments. The Berkeley Playhouse vision of this classic, sharp, musical is well worth your Holiday visit back to the Woods. Or make this your first visit to see the Giant. 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. You need to rediscover, go back into the woods make a wish and be sure to bring some treats for the birds.

The Berkeley Playhouse Presents


By Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine,

Directed and Choreographed by Alex Rodriguez

Music Director Kenji Higashihama

Must Close Dec 23rd

Julia Morgan Theatre

1285 College Ave.

Berkeley, CA 94704

Two Hours 40 minutes with an intermission




Photos Ben Krantz Studio

THE CAST: Anthony Rollins-Mullens* as The Narrator/Mysterious Man , Reggie D. White* as The Baker, Rebecca Pingree as The Baker's Wife , Marah Sotelo as Cinderella , Erika Cospin as Little Red Riding Hood , Alexis Lazear as The Witch , Serene Hammami as Rapunzel , John Melis as Cinderella's Prince/Wolf , David Tuttle as Rapunzel's Prince , Amy Bouchard as Cinderella's Mother/Granny , Romelo Urbi as Jack , Jill Collister as Jack's Mother , Anna Joham as Cinderella's Stepmother , Melinda Campero as Florinda , Jasmine Cook as Lucinda , and Christopher Sotelo as The Steward

PAY WHAT YOU CAN: THURS DEC 9TH - There will be one “Pay What You Can” performance on Thursday, December 9 at 7 pm. This season, patrons can purchase tickets for our Pay What You Can Nights in advance! Seating for this performance is general admission. We suggest a donation of $20, but can accept a minimum of $5. There is a limit of 6 tickets per purchaser.


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