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August 2, 2010

Musical's fairy tale characters are fun, hilarious

MURPHYS -- You couldn't find a better setting to watch Stephen Sondheim's hilarious musical "Into the Woods" than the venue used by Murphys Creek Theatre.

Audience members sit outdoors under the stars in the stunning tree-ringed amphitheater at Albeno Munari Vineyard and Winery (formerly Stevenot).

Director Graham Scott Green's large cast had Friday's opening-night audience laughing nonstop at the show's clever humor and tapping their toes to the catchy songs. The musical is exceptionally well-written and won Tony Awards for best book (James LaPine) and best score (Sondheim) in 1988.

Although some of the singers struggled with staying in tune and keeping in time with the recorded accompaniment, their performances were more entertaining than what's seen in many of the region's theater productions.

"Into the Woods" blends several fairy tales, including "Little Red Riding Hood," "Rapunzel," "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Cinderella." In the first act, each character pursues a wish. In the second act, we find out out what happens when they get their wishes.

Characters fall in and out of love, magic spells are cast, and giants go on the attack. Parents struggle to understand their children, and families wonder if they should follow their dreams or help the community.

The single mountainlike set, designed by Green and Misty Day, easily accommodates all the scenes, from Rapunzel's tower to Cinderella's cottage.

Green also has fun as the Narrator, who pops in from time to time to comment on the action, and as the Mysterious Man, who offers the characters advice. Day is equally sweet and lovely as the much-abused Cinderella.

M ichael Critch makes Cinderella's father a humorous drunk, and Lauren Dyken, Lauren Robinson and Jessie Scales are appropriately obnoxious as the evil stepmother and stepsisters.

The standout in the cast is Vickie Hall as the smart and ambitious Baker's Wife. Her voice and timing is first- rate, and her good-hearted scheming is amusing to watch. Clocky McDowell goes through the biggest transformation as the Baker, starting out shy and unsure and ending as a confident leader.

Mitzi Nelson is delightfully wicked as the Witch and nails her comic rap about destruction to her garden.

Her daughter Madison Riley Nelson, who is only 11, is hilarious as Little Red Riding Hood, an innocent young girl who learns self-defense and starts carrying a knife. Grant Vaughn Davis, who is 13, has some of the funniest scenes as Jack of "Jack and the Beanstalk" and gets big laughs with his ditzy expressions, confused demeanor and inexplicable love for his cow. Martha Omiyo Kight is brave as Jack's mother, but Carley Neill gets little to do as Rapunzel.

Thomas Smith and Robert Vann, who play the pampered princes, are comically distraught in the best song of the show, "Agony." Smith also shines in his other role as the salacious Wolf.

Costume designers Alexis Cienfuegos and Carolyn Collins find colorful fairy tale garb for each of the characters, including a seductive suit for the Wolf and wolf-skin cape worn by Little Red Riding Hood.

If you go, don't forget to bring a jacket or a blanket. Temperatures get quite chilly after the sun goes down.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at or 578-2313.

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