New Muses Theatre Company's Into the Woods at Dukesbay Theater is the third version of this popular Stephan Sondheim musical I have reviewed, and it is quite different in some important ways, primarily in that it is scaled down with a much smaller set in a smaller space with fewer actors, and those actors are physically much closer to the audience. I like the closeness and the scaled-down set with cheap but highly inventive props (a flock of origami birds dropped by a rope pulley operated by actors on stage in full view of the audience, a white chair on rollers as a cow, and a picture frame as a harp; I only wish the babies had been equally inventive objects instead of baby dolls).
Sondheim and book writer James Lapine cobbled together a cast of well-known fairytale characters into a dark fantasy morality tale set to music.
A malevolent witch (Brynne Geiszler) cast a spell on a baker (Nick Clawson) and his wife (Arwen Dewey) making them infertile. She tells them the only way they can break the spell is to go into the woods and get a milky white cow, a blood red cape, hair the color of corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. Finding these items is a snap, but to get them they have to beg, buy or steal them from their owners, who are reluctant to give them up. The cow is the property of Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk (Niclas Olson). The blood red cape belongs to Little Red Riding Hood (Sammy Cattin); the hair the color of corn is Rapunzel's (Jenna McRill); and the slipper as pure as gold is Cinderella's (Tasha Smith).
In a play filled with comical and dramatic clashes with temptation, the baker is too nice to swindle or steal these items, but his wife is much more willing to do whatever it takes to get what she needs so she can have a baby. She’s also easily tempted by the seductive prince (Derek Mesford) who is in love with Cinderella but doesn’t hesitate to two-time her (princes use their charms to seduce. That’s what they do). This prince has a brother (played by Olson ) who is in love with Rapunzel, and both princes are charming, sleazy, arrogant narcissists, as portrayed with great comic effect by Olson and Mesford, whose duet on the song “Agony” is the comic highlight of the show.
The music throughout is wonderful. Highlights include the wolf's flirtatious "Hello Little Girl" as sung by Mesford to Cattin, "A Very Nice Prince" as sung by Dewey and Smith, and Dewey's "Moments in the Woods." The choreographed movement of the entire cast popping in and out like so many Jack-in-the-Boxes ads a magical quality.
Clawson, Cattin, Dewey and Chris Serface as the narrator and "Mysterious Man" turn in marvelous acting jobs. It is particularly nice to see Serface, Tacoma Little Theatre artistic director, back on stage.
Olson, founder of New Muses, not only sings and acts wonderfully in multiple roles, but he also does a great job of directing this show, rising to the challenge of scaling down a big stage production to fit in a small house.
The house, which seats only 40, was sold out opening night, so I highly suggest getting advance tickets.
Into the Woods, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through July 3, $10-$15, Dukesbay Theater, Merlino Arts Center, 508 S. Sixth Ave., Tacoma,