Sep 11, 2018
by Alexa Chipman
Boot up your dusty computers from the 1990s to enter a fairy tale video game with frolicking princes, a bitmap Milky White cow, Oregon Trail inspired death scenes, MS-DOS projections, and a selfie-obsessed Little Red Ridinghood. Lucky Penny has turned this musical upside down with a technological twist that gives edgy humor to Stephen Sondheim’s popular work.
Cursed by a bitter witch who has lost her beauty, a humble baker and his wife will never have children unless they bring the sorceress a series of ludicrous items, from a “cape as red as blood” to “hair as yellow as corn” which sounds like a typical role-playing quest. Director James D. Sasser has taken that theme and run with it, treating the characters and story as if they are electronic; the game even crashes partway through. His sound design of acquired items and victory beeps adds to the impression, accompanied by explanatory text in projections. Intermission is heralded by an amusing request on screen to insert disk 2.
Carrying the story through a multitude of separate plot threads, Tim Setzer as the Baker and Vivian McLaughlin as his Wife are a confident team. Their fond bickering and unwavering energy keeps the eccentric kingdom of magical curses, midnight excursions and attacks by giants grounded in a familiar perspective. The infamous Witch (Taylor Bartolucci) cackles and connives to get her way, with a satisfying warning in “Last Midnight.” Her microphone is hampered by the mask, so at times it is difficult to hear lines, although her songs are exquisite.
Pilar Gonazles’ sassy performance as Little Red Ridinghood is delightful, causing laughs from her insistence on taking a photo with everyone, from a crafty wolf seeking her demise to the irritated baker glaring at her “duck lips” pose. Cinderella is traditionally elegant, with Madison Genovese’s stunning vibrato and compassionate rendition of “No One Is Alone.” A geeky Jack (Ryan Hook) wanders up and down beanstalks with affable humor, ignoring his strident mother (Karen Pinomaki).
Bouncing onstage across a miniature trampoline, the conceited princes (F. James Raaschand Sasser) belt out a hilarious “Agony” describing the princesses they wish to wed, who are tantalizingly unattainable. They find the right mixture of self-centered pretention and exaggerated drama to create lovable villains. Liz Martin’s costume designs are primarily contemporary, with a “blinged out” Stepmother and daughters in spike heels and politically on point “I Really Don’t Care, Do You?” jacket reference.
Partially hidden behind museum era computers, the musicians, led by Craig Burdette, carry the complicated lilting score with delicate care. “Into the Woods” has tightly-packed lyrics, and a sensitive orchestra that adjusts on the go is crucial to maintain pacing and clarity.
This playful “Into the Woods” has a dynamic approach to Sondheim’s darker themes, questioning free will, reality and motivations of archetypal characters through the use of artificial intelligence and game design references. If you are fond of clever dialogue that makes the audience think, it is time to venture into the vineyards of Napa.
Presented by Lucky Penny Productions through September 23, 2018
Thurs at 7:00pm, Fri/Sat at 8:00pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Lucky Penny Community Arts Center
1758 Industrial Way, Suite 208, Napa, CA 94558
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