STAGE REVIEW : An Asian-American 'Into the Woods'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An all-Asian-Pacific-American cast in the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine "Into the Woods"? No problem.

The fairy-tale characters at the center of these "Woods" long ago transcended their northern European roots. The cast at East West Players is uniformly strong, and that's all that's necessary to adapt this wisest of American musicals into Asian-American terms.

Director Tim Dang did add a couple of other details, however. One of them works well: two black-clad and hooded stagehands, Kabuki-style. Besides moving the simple pieces of the Chris Tashima-Christopher Komura set, they also manipulate the bird puppets that assist Cinderella.

Less successful is a montage of contemporary Asian-American images projected on a small round screen during the grand finale. Most of the tiny images linger too briefly to register. The device serves only as a distraction from the cast's final moments.

That's unfortunate, because this cast deserves all our attention. Especially moving is Glen Chin's Baker--the first overweight Baker I've seen, though it makes sense that he might have that occupational hazard. Chin sings with absolute clarity, and his last encounter with his father (versatile Dom Magwili) is indelible.

But then nearly everyone is in fine form: Emily Kuroda's sturdy Baker's Wife, Kimiko Cazanov's passionate Witch, Linda Igarashi's lovely Cinderella, Jennifer Fujii's snappish Little Red Riding Hood, Andrew W. Djang and Orville Mendoza as the two preening princes, Paul Wong's fey Jack and Takayo Fischer as Jack's aggrieved mom.

Played by a four-keyboard backstage band directed by Scott Nagatani, the score sometimes sounds too tinny. It also was slightly out of sync with the actors on a couple of occasions last Sunday, and a technical problem prevented one of Susan Watanabe's conventional but detailed costumes from descending on cue.

Still, it's commendable to bring this complex show to such intimate surroundings. A few of the lyrics are clearer than ever, and we get a rewarding up-close look at these fascinating characters, adrift in a perilous world.

"Into the Woods," East West Players, 4424 Santa Monica Blvd., Silver Lake. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Nov. 22. $20-$22. (213) 660-0366. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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