On Theater: APA students, grads go 'Into the Woods'

Huntington Beach High School's Academy for the Performing Arts has its own All-Star Game, and it's on stage through this weekend.

It's "Into the Woods," the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical that takes our well-known fairy tale characters, dumps them into a huge cauldron, shakes them up and scatters them about the stage. Anything might happen, and generally does.

Tim Nelson, the show's director and musical director, has chosen the best and brightest of his past and present academy performers for this special production at Westminster's Rose Theater Center. He's also done a little shaking and scattering himself, as regards the script, which may leave more than a few heads scratched.

The talent is there, in abundance. And it takes more than singing or acting skill to do justice to Sondheim's show, which takes a circuitous route between "once upon a time" and "happily ever after." Particularly when the director pulls the plug shortly before the first-act curtain and re-inserts it about five minutes into the second act.

"Into the Woods" combines several characters from children's literature into a complex story line with a baker and his wife who don't seem to fit into any familiar niche but serve as the show's centerpiece, along with the Witch who pulls the strings of virtually all of them, sending the aforementioned pair on a scatterbrained scavenger hunt so that she may regain her beauty.

Melissa Cook (Fiona from the company's last show, "Brigadoon") excels as the Witch. Dani Kerry takes over the role for this second and final weekend. Cook kept the others wonderfully in thrall throughout, and exited the scene with the clear vocal highlight of the show, "The Last Midnight."

Others turning in highly impressive performances are Alex Bartosch as the baker, Elizabeth Romero as Cinderella, Sami Biardi as Little Red Riding Hood, Dana Pull as Jack (of the beanstalk tale) and Jake Gonzalez, doubling as Red's wolf and Cinderella's prince. Rachel Culhane also shines as the baker's wife, though she's replaced this weekend by Carrie Hacker.

Amanda Hinchee is solid as Jack's quibbling mother. Tamara Mendoza doubles splendidly as the voice of Cinderella's mother and Rapunzel, Lauryn Judson takes on both Cinderella's stepmother and Red's granny, while Jenisa de Castro and Hayleigh Green inject some fine invective into the Cinderella story as her stepsisters.

Chris Caputo functions as the show's narrator, while Nelson takes on the sterling cameo of the "mysterious stranger." Brion Kerry has the rather thankless task of impersonating a cow.

Gonzales teams with Garrett Brown for a pair of princely duets, both titled "Agony," which are notable for Sondheim's considerable ironic wit. This latter element also surfaces in the group number "Your Fault," which features lyrics like the Witch's admonition, "It's your father's fault that the curse got placed/and the place got cursed in the first place."

"Into the Woods" remains one of Sondheim's most intricate and inventive musicals, and one of the most fun to watch. Nelson's students and graduates are proving themselves all-stars indeed with this production, even with its choppy midsection.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.

If You Go

What: "Into the Woods"

Where: Rose Center Theater, 14140 All American Way, Westminster

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $17 to $22

Information: (714) 793-1150, ext. 1

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