Anyone who likes their fairy tales served darkly, with Brothers Grimm lightning flashes, foreboding, some bloodshed and many ethical quandaries, will find the Idyllwild Master Chorale’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical “Into the Woods” a potion brewed to their taste.
Directed by Lisa Furugen with musical direction by Dwight “Buzz” Holmes, “Woods” is the most ambitious musical IMC has ever mounted. Starring Betty Anderson, Justin Patrick Holmes and Dimyana Pelev, and featuring a 20-member blended cast of Idyllwild Arts graduates and IMC regulars, “Woods” is fast-paced, witty and sparkles with some of Sondheim’s best lyrics. Also featuring a professional pit orchestra under Holmes’ direction, “Into the Woods” will lure audiences deeply into the characters’ curses and reverses, sweet hopes and crushing blows.
One of Sondheim’s most produced musicals, “Into the Woods” premiered on Broadway on Nov. 5, 1987, and won Tony Awards for Best Score (Sondheim), Best Book (James Lapine) and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason) in an awards year otherwise dominated by “Phantom of the Opera.”
Gleason is a lifelong friend of Holmes. They met at Beverly Hills High, and were in musical and drama productions together, as well as the school Madrigal Singers. Gleason sent greetings to the cast and to the community. She said, “It’s going to be fabulous, and you’ll have the time of your lives!”
The musical examines the philosophical and moral questions “If you get your wish will you be happy?” and “Do you utilize any means to obtain your wish?” Lapine threads together characters from different fairy tales — Cinderella, Prince Charming, Rapunzel in her tower, Jack, climbing his beanstalk to meet giants, and Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf — and inserts two new characters, a childless Baker and his wife, to tie it all together. As characters go “Into the Woods,” a metaphor for crossing into what is frightening and unknown, we follow closely behind — and that is because there is something of them in each of us. We all have wishes and regrets, but what makes Lapine’s characters’ stories so compelling is when getting their wish causes their regrets and prompts each to reflect, recalibrate and if still standing, to begin again. Lapine makes clear that all actions have consequences and abandoning ethical considerations in order to obtain a goal may have particularly perilous consequences.
Darkening the woods and complicating the characters’ journeys are a witch who curses, cackles and cajoles, and two angry giants who feel justified in seeking revenge on those who have violated them.
Sondheim, acknowledged internationally as the preeminent Broadway composer of the last 50 years, is at his finest with music and lyrics for “Into the Woods.” Haunting ballads alternate with percussive and fasted-paced musical narratives. For the actors and audience, there is scarcely time to breathe. Something is behind every tree and that something could be either lovely or deadly.
And, as in most fairy tales, there is light, there is hope and there is learning, but finding them did not prove easy for any of the travelers.
The musical opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 20, plays on Saturday at the same time and closes with a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 22. Tickets are available online at www.idyllwildmasterchorale.com and at the door — $20 for adults and $10 for students.
The long-contemplated movie version, helmed by “Chicago” director Rob Marshall and starring Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine, opens in December. But Holmes urged Idyllwild residents to see it here first. He calls “Into the Woods” a major achievement in IMC’s history of offering summer musicals - an experience richly layered and one not to be missed.