The story, for those who don't already worship at this particular musical theatre altar, is a mish-mash of classic fairy tales. It centers around a childless baker and his wife who are sent on a quest by the witch next door so they can end their curse and finally have a child. Along the way, they meet Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (of beanstalk fame) and his mother, Cinderella, Rapunzel, princes, stepsisters, giants...it's quite the journey. Each character has his or her own wish, and by the end of the first act everyone's feeling pretty good. But wishes can be tricky things, and act two unravels beyond even the Grimmest of tales.
Now, Into the Woods is a notoriously tough (albeit wildly popular) undertaking. It's long, the music is complicated, the cast is sizable, and I have to admit, I wasn't sure how the show was going to fit into the tiny storefront theatre in Ferndale, but I was pleasantly surprised by what director Joe Bailey did to bring the behemoth down to the right size. Bailey sets his tale in a bomb shelter, where a handful of disparate people have come together for safety, and the stories come to life in front of us as a way for the refugees to pass the time. Of course, there aren't enough people, so almost all of the actors take on multiple roles, which is really where this production shines. The Ringwald knows how to do camp, and in this production the flouncing and prancing and metatheatrical commentary does a great job highlighting the magic and the artifice of the fairy tales, but Bailey also knows when to shed the tricks for some genuine moments of fear, loss, discovery, and growth.
Across the board, it was clear that the cast was having a lot of fun in this uneasy world Bailey set up for them. First, Jeff Bobick deserves a special shout-out for not only serving as Musical Director, but also acting as narrator and one man band! Kryssy Becker as Cinderella has a crystalline soprano that soars through her songs, and she has just the right balance of sincerity and silliness. Drew Arnold is delightfully daft as Jack, with a sweet, silky tenor voice (and, it turns out, a pretty rockin' soprano of his own). David Moan and Richard Payton are a riot as the Princes...and the stepsisters...and the Wolf and the Cow...and whatever else they needed to be at any given moment. They sound great together...and they both have some pretty impressive comic chops and princely hops! Molly McMahon has some archly funny moments as Little Red. Dan Morrison is a lot of fun as The Mysterious Man and sort of camp-master general of the performance. Jamie Richards turns in a solid performance as the Baker. Eva Rosenwald has a few nice moments as the Baker's Wife, but is generally a little bland and vocally inconsistent. Lisa Jesswein is fine as Jack's Mother, though she never quite manages to match the vocal energy of the rest of the cast. And though I hate to say it, Suzan M. Jacokes as the Witch misses the mark in my book. There's more yelling and mugging than is really called for even in the campiest of plays (which, despite its non-traditional take, this still is not), and aside from a few moments (her performance of "Children Will Listen," for example, is a rare and lovely moment of truth), she generally doesn't quite feel like she's in the same play as the rest of the cast.
Phill Harmer's scenic design fills the Ringwald space creatively, providing a versatile acting space and effectively engulfing the audience in the fairy tale world as well as the "real" world of the bunker. Dan Morrison's lighting design does an excellent job of leading us through the woods along with the characters. Tracy Murrell's costume design is simple and communicative, carefully signaling the myriad character shifts. And I have to give a shout out to properties master Alexander H. Trice for some pretty brilliant little bits - the hen and the birds are my personal favorites. But for my money, the star of this show's technical team is Brandy Joe Plambeck's sound design, which superbly delineates and defines the framing world and the fairy tale world.
I wasn't sold on the bunker concept at first, but as the play progressed it really grew on me. I developed a kinship with these huddled strangers just trying to get by, and the magical, exciting, story they told. There is a darkness to fairy tales, to this script, and to our world that, even in our stories, we can't escape. But according to The Ringwald's admirable production, maybe it's not escape that we need, so much as the courage to hang together and keep on wishing.
Into the Woods by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim (Director: Joe Bailey, Music Director: Jeff Bobick) continues at The Ringwald Theatre through June 2. Tickets range from $10-$25. For more information, visit http://www.theringwald.com/.