More and more, the Broadway musical is becoming the Broadway spectacle. After Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Cats" and "Starlight Express," producers and playwrights alike are turning toward the fantastic and away from "The Fantasticks." The watchword of the Great White Way today is "pageantry" - familiar stories told with flair and sentiment.
Mormon pageants, it seems, were really decades ahead of their time.So it is with "Into the Woods," the Stephen Sondheim show now making whistle-stops through Utah as part of a national tour. The local run opened in Logan Tuesday night, and for those in other cities holding tickets, the good news is this: "Into the Woods" is classic Sondheim. From the opening moments when the narrator cries "Once Upon a Time" and the orchestra breaks into a series of pulsating, major-seventh chords, to the very small moments in the lyrics ("Life can be so unpleasant, but of course you know that as a peasant,"), patrons will know they're in the realm of the man who wrote "Sweeney Todd," "Follies" and "Company."
Every song carries Sondheim's signature.
This is a long show (about three hours including intermission) and the twists and turns of fate create a cat's cradle of relationships requiring an adult attention span. Still, the ongoing operatic quality - with much more singing than speaking - helps keep the musical entertaining for kids, too.
The story, by James Lapine, is clever and totally derivative. Lapine has set a baker and his wife at the center of the plot. A witch tells the couple if they can supply her with a blood-red cloak, a lock of hair the color of corn, a golden slipper and a milk-white cow, they will be able to conceive a child. Soon, needless to say, the pair is cavorting through the woods conspiring against Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Cinderella and Jack and his famous beanstalk.
Princes, princesses, wolves, witches, hags, codgers and giants are all eventually worked into the story line.
As the baker, Scott Calcagno brings a wide-eyed quality to his role. But when dangers deepen in the woods, his true valiant character begins to emerge. His wife (Jan Blass) shows some depth of character one won't find in original fairy tale women,and the petite witch (Kelly Ellenwood) is a nice addition. Her incredibly small size gives the show an "out-of-the-ordinary" feel.
Though the production is filled with fun and pratfalls (lines such as "dreaming doesn't keep the wolf from the door" and "I was born to be charming, not sincere" pop up everywhere) the real comic relief comes from the pair of princes (Steve Wallem and Scott Mikita). The song "Agony" is a show-stopper and the royal twosome move and speak in such an affected manner that Logan theatergoers clapped and cheered at almost every gesture. (Years from now, Mikita can look back on a long career and say "I remember when I knocked 'em dead in Logan.")
In the end, shows such as this go to the bank on special effects and scenery. There is plenty of each. Sets open and close like giant storybooks, and strobe lights, sparkle dust and sound effects add to the fantasy of it all.
As with so much of Sondheim's latest work, you won't leave the theater humming the tunes. The intervals and rhythms are too devilish for that. But if you hang with the show for all three hours, you'll leave a wiser and well-entertained person.