By Pat Launer
Everyone knows dangers lurk if you go “Into the Woods.” But Shaun T. Evans, the ever-intrepid founding artistic director of California Youth Conservatory, has ventured into thorny Sondheim territory to present the acclaimed 1987 musical (score by Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine). Evans’ young performers are lucky to have some expert guides through the thicket.
Part of CYC’s mission is to train young performers by including professionals in its productions. This time, the company has hit the jackpot. There are four pros in the cast: Tom Andrew, Andy McDowell, Leigh Scarritt and Bryan Stanton. High-profile, highly experienced Equity actors Andrew and Scarritt have played their roles (The Baker, The Witch) twice before — together — at Starlight Theatre (1999 and 2009). They’re both terrific, convincing, funny — and superb role models for the kids.
The young people certainly hold their own. Eighteen year-old Meghan McKenzie is spellbinding as The Baker’s Wife; she’s a skillful singer, who acts and moves extremely well, too (a real theatrical triple-threat). Alternating in the role of Cinderella is 15 year-old Olivia Hodson (Gabi Leibowitz shares the role), who has a lovely soprano voice and a charming stage presence. Other youthful standouts: Benjamin Read (Cinderella’s Prince), Megan Spector (Little Red), Erik Ramirez (The Wolf) and as The Little Boy, hammy and hilarious 5 year-old Abraham German.
Evans makes excellent use of the revolving set, though there are too many blackouts (creating a nearly three hour production), and an overuse of intimate, sit-on-the-edge-of-the-stage-and-sing moments. The costumes (Mandy LaRowe) are wonderful. The choral direction (Amy McDowell, who plays Cinderella’s Mother with vocal finesse) is outstanding, as is the 13-piece offstage orchestra (conducted by Rodrigo Arreola).
As an extra enticement, CYC offers a drawing during intermission, and an impressive silent auction (theater tickets, dinner packages, Padres tickets, etc.).
So… what’s not to like? The mashup of fairy tales, and the story of what comes after Happily Ever After does get dark in the second act (and a bit heavy-handed), but the two abiding messages, “Children will Listen” and “No One is Alone,” resonate long after the lights dim.
- “Into the Woods” runs through April 18 at the Lyceum Theatre
- The final performances are Friday, April 17, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 18, at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.
- Tickets ($18-$28) are available at www.cyctheatre.webs.com
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at www.patteproductions.com.
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