DINNER IS ON SOMEONE'S MIND - Little Red Riding Hood (Maya Marshall) is not thinking that she has made a new friend in the Wolf (Nate Wheeler). This is not going to end well for one of these characters in META's production on 'Into the Woods' at the Lincoln Theatre - photo courtesy of Peter Wheeler, META.
Life is hard and specific situations can be bleak, hopeless. That is true for fairy tale characters as well as you or me. Getting past stuck requires action and taking chances, whether you are Jack, from the Beanstalk story or Red, as in Little Red Riding Hood, or Cinderella, or the newly created Baker and his Wife, brought to life to weave strands of Brothers Grimm fairy tales together by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine in “Into the Woods,” the META musical which opened last weekend at the Lincoln Theatre. Go see it, if only for the Wolf (Nate Wheeler), who alone is worth the price of admission. When the cow fails to give milk, or Cinderella is left behind while her step-sisters go to the ball, or in Red’s case, she is off to see her granny, the decision has to be to go “Into the woods / To get the thing / That makes it worth / The journeying.” And so cast members set off. They march and dance into the title song, introduced by a narrator (a wry, knowing Truxtun McCoy). Sondheim’s 1987 Broadway mash-up of a half dozen European fairy tales, is a rich complex stew. Glynna Goff, directing, and Sharyn Peterson conducting (and musical director), admirably lead their young charges, who range in age from middle school through college graduates. All deliver strong performances. Fairy tales are a complex mix themselves, offering story, lesson, message and moral. Sondheim combined six into one, gaining unity by sending the characters “into the woods.” The protagonists find their problems are both individualistic in origin and universalistic in solution. They are not simple to solve. The first act ends apparently happily ever after, but life has several acts. The primarily student cast – META’s vision is “to give young people tools to better understand themselves and their culture” – must have learned adult lessons as well as their lines during rehearsals. The second act reveals one problem after another. The major dramatic one is “Herself,” the slain giant’s wife, seeking vengeance. One character after another gets knocked off. This is not Disney. The performers, on stage and in the orchestra, are up to the task, handling Sondheim’s music and songs beyond their years. From solos to duets, double duets and ensemble singing, often while dancing, there wasn’t a misstep. The movement is lively, the cast coming and going in every conceivable combination, including onto the stage from the auditorium aisles. Even the youngest cast members conveyed irony and nuance. The princes (Adrian Lane, for Cinderella, Ammon Palmer for Rapunzel) shared subtle slapstick. Palmer is more flamboyant, Lane more nuanced. Each created stage presence. The entire cast, under the able directions of Goff, got the ironic, sly nature of the script. All 23 expressed their individuality through nuances in their performances. The Wolf (Wheeler) was outstanding, from his makeup through his costume, gestures and voice. Red (Maya Marshall) showed bravery and verve. The Baker (Josh Sharpe) sought independence from his wife (Sierra Jones) then learned his need to be interdependent. Jones showed that she was the smarter, steadier partner. There were smaller roles but no small parts. Kathy Gildness’ costume design is classic European fairy tale. The team of make up artists is superb. META Performing Arts has been active in Skagit County since 1997. “Into the Woods” runs through May 19. For performances and tickets: (360) 336-8955, http://lincolntheatre.org/event/woods. Sondheim and Lapine won Tonys for best score and best book.