This weekend, I had HD cable installed, just in time for Harry Potter marathon. Love the movies, love the books. And I usually would not sit around and watch back to back 3 hour movies, but I came down with a cold on Friday night, and so it was the perfect thing to do.
Friday night, speaking of magic, I went to see "Into the Woods" staged by Lucid by Proxy in downtown LA. It was done in a warehouse setting, which I thought worked well for the show. It was very well staged by Calvin Remsberg, and though the space definitely had some acoustic challenges, the people were up to it.
It struck me, though, again, with Sondheim, that it's almost a different skill than other musical theater - at least presentational musical theater. The voices were uniformly good - a few being excellent - the Cinderella and Rapunzel really worked for me. The performances, though, were slightly uneven, and underscored how hard it is to perform Sondheim, or at least as richly as the text indicates - these are not simple characters; paradoxically I think the solution a lot of the time with him is to just be a real person simply singing - the songs do a lot of the work. I'm sure I'm spoiled from seeing the original and loving the cast, so I have my preconceptions, but I tried to leave those at the door. A few of the performances didn't work as well for me, just in trying too hard, I suppose. It's a strange balance, the characters are archetypes, and some remain that way while others learn something and become something deeper.
On the good side, Cinderella had a gorgeous voice, and got the mix of humor and gravity. Rapunzel, actually, was one of my favorite things in the show, and the people I was with, too. She did exactly what was needed - grounded emotionally, but great timing and commitment. Red Riding Hood came alive in the second act, probably freed of the constraint of having the narrator tell her the story for the first part. Actually, all the cast vocally for the most part was spot-on and it was nice to feel safe - usually my enjoyment of a musical is contingent on feeling safe that the cast is able to sing it with no painful surprises.
I don't have the program with me, but Cinderella's prince/the Wolf was vocally a loose cannon - he certainly has a large voice, but flatted or sharped by pushing too hard - a couple of times in Agony it was just plain wrong, and just didn't go far enough in the characterization for me. He was probably the most disappointing - not awful by any means - he has a beautiful richness to his sound, but just not there. The Baker's Wife was fine - has a good voice and sounded good, but seemed just too earnest, missing a lot of the cleverness and humor - consequently the emotion of that story line was a little lost for me (though you can't help but be shocked in the second act). I didn't get that she was one of the smartest and slyest people on the stage, and that's one of the things I like about that character - and it's needed humor. The witch had a great voice, but just a little too much arm swinging, screaming, and over-pointing for me. It all stops making sense, and it feels like the actor is trying too hard. She did have a great voice for it, though. I noticed, too, that many of the cast hamstrung the jokes by being aware that they were about to say something funny. Kills it every time - good to be reminded of that. I also wanted to just find out what the costumer was thinking with the witch transformation costume - not a good look.
Overall, I enjoyed it, thought it looked great for what was probably a shoe-string, and was engaging. So I'm glad I saw it - it's not often I get a chance to see a large musical. So, yay musicals. I hope they stage more.