With a Disney-fied big-screen version looming for Christmas, San Francisco Playhouse’s summer production of “Into the Woods” offers a chance to savor a potentially more true-to-the-source production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s popular fairytale mash-up than early word on the film is suggesting.
Making her musical directing debut, Susi Damilano, producing director for the Playhouse, has tinkered to a small extent – adding the silent role of a boy (Ian DeVaynes) who interacts with the characters, sometimes providing props and moving scenery. The production also reflects some changes made over the years by the authors, such as deploying two wolves and adding the song “Our Little World.”
Damilano guides the large and talented cast deftly through the overlapping storylines of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Ridinghood, Jack and his beanstalk and a childless baker and his wife who must undo a witch’s curse.
Each player has shining moments and the only real dissonance occurs when most actors speak in a heightened presentational style appropriate to the piece, while a few adopt a more contemporary delivery – sometimes in the same scene. This is particularly evident with the Baker’s Wife (El Beh), an extremely fine actor whose vocal delivery just feels too modern to blend into the rest of production.
Exceptional performances come from Keith Pinto as the Baker and Monique Hafen as Cinderella. Hafen smartly offsets her delicate beauty and crystalline voice with a sublime silliness and growing spunk. Pinto sings with a powerful earnestness and plays the moral conflicts of the plot with strength and integrity.
As the curse-bearing Witch, Safiya Fredericks is a rolling bundle of gray menace before transforming into her stately and truth-telling but magically powerless self, and Louis Parnell plays impish charm in the Mysterious Man’s narrations and paternal warmth when interacting with the boy.
The trio of Jeffrey Brian Adams and Ryan McCrary as the wolves/princes and Corrine Proctor as Little Red bring some of the funniest moments in the evening, and Noelani Neal is a stronger and more grounded Rapunzel than is usually seen.
Standouts moments also come from the loopy warmth and vocal power of Tim Homsley’s Jack, the zany-but-wise Maureen McVerry as his mother, and the delightfully self-absorbed bitchery of Bekka Fink and identical twins Lily and Michelle Drexler as Cinderella’s tormenting family.
The evocative set by Nina Ball and inventive costumes by Abra Berman create just the right tone of whimsy and mystery. Exceptional sound (design by Theodore J.H. Hulsker, engineering by Anton Hedman) make it possible to appreciate every nuance of the cast’s nimble delivery of Sondheim’s crisp lyrics and Dave Dobrusky’s outstanding music direction of the rich score.
Into the Woods
Where: San Francisco Playhouse , 450 Post St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 6
Tickets: $20 to $120