Going ‘Into the Woods’ and out again

Stephen Sondheim’s great fractured fairy tale-themed musical has giants, princes, an insatiable wolf, an invisible dwarf and a bipolar witch — for starters.

As if that’s not enough, the opening performance of the Diablo Theatre Company’s “Into the Woods” Friday also featured gremlins aplenty and an accident that would have stopped a lesser company.

“This is an opening night you will never forget,” the troupe’s artistic director Daren Carollo told the audience during intermission. 

The show’s setting in an orphanage is director Ryan Mark Weible’s modification of the work, with Sondheim’s permission.

Instead of telling the story to the audience, as in the original, Diablo’s brilliant Joel Roster as the Narrator regales preteens in the orphanage with the tales, and the young ones sing and act with the cast judiciously, adding to the play.

The gremlins first came in the sound system. Hisses, pops and strange noises occasionally took away from outstanding vocal performances by Jessica Fisher as the Baker’s Wife, Molly Kruse as Cinderella, Tracy Chiappone as the Witch, Jessica Knudsen as Rapunzel and Alex Rodriguez and Danny Cozart as the two Princes; Rodriguez also played the Wolf.

Steve Rhyne, the Baker, either had the correct microphone setting or he is just that good; electronics didn’t interfere with a winning performance.

The other gremlin (a first for me in decades of attending theater) was when the tiny, big-voiced Little Red Ridinghood (Melody Perera, Sri Lanka’s gift to the stage) didn’t show up for her scene with Jack of the Beanstalk (Tony Conaty).

She might have been a couple of minutes late, but it seemed an eternity. Yet Roster turned it into a hilarious scene of improvisation.

Then came the accident. Jack DeRieux, a retired drama teacher in the role of the Mysterious Man, tried to squeeze through the set, and it collapsed, burying him under the rubble.

During a great collective gasp, an actor and a stagehand carried DeRieux offstage. Other than one of DeRieux’s lines, nothing was missed; the play continued.

About 10 minutes later, when the Mysterious Man had another appearance, DeRieux actually hobbled in and — after a round of applause — delivered his line.

At intermission, DeRieux was taken to the hospital (no broken bones were found) and Carollo delivered his remarks. In the second act, the indefatigable Roster took on DeRieux’s role, changing back and forth almost as much as the Witch.

Through it all, fighting electronics heroically, music director Cheryl Yee Glass’ 11-piece band delivered an admirable performance.

Into the Woods

Presented by Diablo Theatre Company

Where: Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays; closes June 20
Tickets: $21 to $45
Contact: (925) 943-7469, www.dloc.org

artsentertainmentInto the WoodsOther ArtsStephen Sondheim

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