.Dark Tale

SRJC's 'Woods' succeeds despite challenges

The Santa Rosa Junior College theater season ends with a production of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. It’s a fairy tale mash-up with elements of “Cinderella,” “Rapunzel,” “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Little Red Riding Hood” set to a classic Sondheim score. As in the original tales—and unlike most adaptations—things do not end well.

A childless baker (Brett Mollard) and his wife (Katie Smith) make a bargain with a witch (Alanna Weatherby) to lift a family curse and grant their wish for a child. They are tasked with acquiring four items: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold.

Their search leads them to cross paths in the woods with the characters from the aforementioned fairy tales, all seeking fulfillment of their own wishes. The first act ends on a happy note as everyone seems to have their wishes granted, but Act II gets dark as the characters’ actions play out. In other words, be careful what you wish for.

With the JC’s Burbank Auditorium undergoing renovations, the limitations of the Maria Carrillo High School Auditorium utilized for this production led director Laura Downing-Lee and her design team to get even more inventive than usual. They’ve reached back to the source material and set the show in a library. Scenic designer Peter Crompton loads the stage with oversized books that work as doors and steps. Under the vocal direction of Jody Benecke and musical direction of Justin Pyne and a nine-piece offstage orchestra, the creatively costumed cast do well with the often-challenging Sondheim score. Mollard, Smith and Weatherby lead the talented ensemble, which includes Levi Sterling as Jack, Serena Poggi as Little Red Riding Hood, Ella Park as Cinderella, Shayla Nordby as Rapunzel and Cooper Bennett and Roberto Pérez Kempton as princes who were “raised to be charming, not sincere.”

Unfortunately, the opening-night performance was marred by technical difficulties. Erratic microphone work and a failing projection system distracted from the fine work being done onstage. My wish is that they get it all fixed so that audiences can fully enjoy this very entertaining production.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★½


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