Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Into the Warehouse and Into The Woods

Into The Woods
Anthony Geary with cast. Photos by Tris Beezley

When you have an opportunity to see one of Stephen Sondheim’s most popular musicals (like Into The Woods) produced with a fresh vision (by director Calvin Remsberg) in a non-traditional 99-seat space (think empty warehouse), who could possibly pass that up? Certainly not me.

Driving out to the location (just north of downtown on Main, across the L.A. River and a couple of streets off to the right in the Taylor Junction area of warehouses), I felt like I was on an adventure…literally going into the urban woods. It was getting dark…I didn’t know what I was walking into…I was on my own. Somehow the lyrics to “Into The Woods” seemed to take on new meaning.

“Into the woods, without delay, but careful not to lose the way. Into the woods, who knows what may be lurking on the journey?”

From the drive, to the parking, to inside the warehouse itself, the location can’t help but steal the show. Remsberg and set designer, Jeanine Nicholas, have placed the stage near one corner of the space, draping vines from iron girders, using metal walkways and other structural elements to create the distressed atmosphere of the woods. Staircases and added ramps allow actors to reach the raised stage, with audience members seated “boxing ring style” on two sides. Jim Harney’s stark lighting furthers the tone, directing the audience’s attention by his use of contrast and shadows.

The fairy tales that intertwine in this musical are familiar; Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel are all stories we’ve heard before, yet this musical does not pretend that all endings are happy. When you get what you want, you may not want what you’ve got…and then what do you do? Wait for the second act and you’ll see.

Into The Woods is one of Sondheim’s most difficult scores and musical director Richard Berent seamlessly blends live acoustic piano and pre-recorded orchestrations to provide the accompaniment for Remsberg’s industrial setting. Fellow musicians will understand the enormous amount of work that has gone into his task, in addition to rehearsing a cast of twenty in just a few short weeks.

Into The Woods
Jennifer Malenke and Valerie Rachelle

Standouts among the ensemble include Jennifer Malenke as Cinderella. Even if there was no other reason to see this show (but there is), you should see it for her sparkling soprano spinning out across the warehouse space as she portrays the down-to-earth princess-in-the-making.

The same can be said of Zachary Ford, one half of the comedic duo of princes (along with the dashing David Nett) who leaps on and off the stage in search of damsels in distress. The agony they express over the one thing they want that is out of reach is absolutely delicious, and Ford’s ability to sing through a vocal phrase shows off his gorgeous tenor voice beautifully.

The best one-liners, of course, go to Little Red (Shannon Nelson), who nonchalantly pops them out one after another. She finds herself both in the story and listening to the story, as narrated by a mysterious man, (General Hospital’s Anthony Geary). Geary moves easily in and out of the tale, at times casually observing the other characters and at others, thrusting himself into the story to assist the Baker (David Pevsner). When tragedy finally strikes the mysterious man, the rest of the characters must learn to find their own way in a world that no longer resembles the familiar fairy tale they once knew.

And finally, a cow named Milky White (Johnny Cannizzaro) proves that, without any words, all you really need to do to steal a scene is quietly go about your business.

The Lucid By Proxy production of Into The Woods runs through November 20th at 8:00 pm at Big Art Labs, 651 Clover Street, Los Angeles (downtown) 90031. Tickets and information available online at or 800-838-3006.

Cast: David Pevsner (Baker), Valerie Rachelle (Baker’s Wife), Jennifer Malenke (Cinderella), Shannon Nelson (Little Red Riding Hood), Michael Uribes (Jack), Jessica Pennington (Witch), Pamela Hamill (Jack’s Mom), Nancy Gassner-Clayton (Stepmother), Jessie Withers (Florinda) and Sarah Orr (Lucinda), Johnny Cannizzaro (Milky White), Jayson Kraid (Father), AnnaLisa Erickson (Cinderella’s Mother/Granny/Giant), James Paul Xavier (Steward), David Nett (Cinderella’s Prince/Wolf), Josie Yount (Rapunzel), Zachary Ford (Rapunzel’s Prince), Sarah J. Stuckey (Sleeping Beauty), and Carissa Ro Gatti (Snow White).

Crew: Calvin Remsberg (Director), Richard Berent (Musical Director), Patty Ramsey (Stage Manager), Sasha Harris (Assistant Stage Manager), Jeanine Nicholas (Scenic Designer), Jim Harney (Lighting Designer), Joseph "Sloe" Slawinksi (Sound Designer), Kerri Norris (Costume Designer).


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