Fans of Stephen Sondheim got a big gift Tuesday night at the Curran theater, as “Into the Woods” opened for a limited six-day run.
Beautifully sung and acted with considerable panache, the musical comes to San Francisco featuring cast members of last year’s heralded Broadway revival. This production, which started as a semi-staged concert in May of 2022—just months after Sondheim’s death in late 2021—brings a seasoned, fully committed cast to the composer’s fairy tale show about love, desire, and the search for fulfillment.
With elements of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and other classic stories woven in, the 1987 show, with music and lyrics by Sondheim, book by James Lapine, and orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, remains as touching as it is hilarious. Eminently theatrical, and endlessly compassionate, “Into the Woods” asks us to consider why we wish for what we want, then wonder why we wanted what we wished for.
Directed by Lear DeBessonet, with choreography by Lorin Latarro, it’s a beautifully staged production. David Rockwell’s scenic designs feature a forest of hanging trees, attractively lit by Tyler Micoleau. There are inventive touches throughout: an uncommonly expressive cow designed by James Ortiz and managed by puppeteer Kennedy Kanagawa; a menacing witch in the form of an oversized pair of boots. The result is an atmosphere of enchantment as the cast, dressed in character-defining costumes by Andrea Hood, come onstage to tell their tales.
The production keeps the focus on those tales of struggle, yearning and hard-won knowledge, all expressed in Sondheim’s marvel of a score and Lapine’s characterful writing. The orchestra, led by John Bell, is positioned onstage just behind the action; the conductor and his players gave the cast firm support throughout the opening night performance.
Act 1 introduces the characters: Jack and his cow, the Baker and his wife, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Ridinghood. Each one is caught up in personal struggle: longing, striving, wishing for love, prosperity, happiness, a baby. Act 2 brings further complications, disappointments: the realization of what’s been lost in all the striving.
If that sounds serious, it is. But it’s also seriously funny. On opening night, the cast captured the corresponding emotions with a wonderful mix of angst and exaltation.
Sebastian Arcelus gave a standout performance as the conflicted Baker, and Stephanie J. Block was every bit his match as the yearning Baker’s Wife; the couple, who are husband and wife in real life, kept their angst and uncertainty at the heart of the show throughout. Cole Thompson’s hangdog Jack, who trades his beloved cow for a handful of beans, was one of the cast’s vocal standouts, and Katy Geraghty, whose ”I Know Things Now” was an Act 1 highlight, contributed perfectly timed sass throughout the evening as Little Red Ridinghood.
The Witch, with Felicia Curry standing in for Montego Glover on opening night, swooped in and out of the action, moving through her scenes with menace and catlike grace. Diane Phelan’s Cinderella and Alysia Velez’s Rapunzel were played with plenty of angst, and the crisp comic timing of the show’s two dim-bulb Princes—Gavin Creel as Cinderella’s Prince, and Jason Forbach as Rapunzel’s—yielded some of the night’s biggest laughs.
Still, “Into the Woods” isn’t just funny. It has always been one of Sondheim’s most beloved scores, and this revival is an indelible reminder of why that is. As the show comes to an end, the song “Children Will Listen” brings us back from the forest, maybe a little wiser —or at least, a little less afraid of the dark.
“Into the Woods” continues through June 26 at the Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are $59-$259 at broadwaysf.com.