Stephen Sondheim classic ‘Into the Woods’ gets classic treatment at the Ahmanson

If anything, the net result proves the power of the work itself: “Into the Woods,” with its fatalistic take on fairy tales, has such a finely constructed core, and such an engrossing story to tell, that it doesn’t need all the elaborate trappings of a more standard Broadway musical to be a success. Indeed, stripped of some of the froth, it proves more powerful than before.This is, in large part due to the vision of directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, the interwoven individualistic movements created by choreographer Lisa Shriver, and a truly remarkable ensemble cast. Innovative use of simple props, shadows and sound, nonstop energy and movement, all work together to involve the audience, fill the entire stage, and, in the end, make one startled to have sat comfortably and totally engrossed through what is an admittedly long show.

SundaysWhere: The Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los AngelesTickets: $25-$125Length: 2 hours, 45 minutes, with intermissionSuitability: Not a fairy tale, but should be OK for older childrenInformation: 213-972-4400, Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. ★★&#x2605&#x2605When: Through May 14, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m.
They give the convoluted tale the Story Theater approach, playing all 18 parts on a single, fanciful set, playing additional musical instruments as needed for emphasis or sound effects. Such is the case with the Fiasco Theater production of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” now at the Ahmanson.Under the inspired direction of Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, this usually elaborately staged musical has been stripped down to its essence: 10 performers and a pianist. Every once in a while there comes an opportunity to experience an extraordinarily rich theatrical performance.
One of the wonders of this production — especially at the Ahmanson, where one’s ability to hear can often be dictated by one’s location in the theater — is that every single word is crisp and understandable but at no sacrifice to the artistry of song itself.Still, what strikes one most is the artistry, energy, humor, fluidity and coordination of the ensemble cast. In “Into the Woods,” almost all of what is important to know is sung. And then there are the songs. Evan Harrington and Eleasha Gamble tie the recognizable tales together with one created by Lapine, as a baker and his wife trying to overcome a curse in order to have a child. The two radiate a genuineness that connects the audience to their plight, and their balance of hopefulness and practicality unify the other storylines. Sondheim’s lyrics are always intricate and poetically pointed.

Anthony Chatmon II and Darick Pead play the two prince charmings, as well as Cinderella’s two ugly stepsisters, while Chatmon takes on Red Ridinghood’s wolf, and Pead becomes a true standout as Jack’s cow.Bonne Kramer handles the two sides of motherhood as Cinderella’s stepmother and Jack’s desperate mother, while Patrick Mulryan plays both Jack and an officious steward to Cinderella’s prince. Fred Rose hovers over things as the Mysterious Man, and Stephanie Umoh becomes an impressively balanced and understandable Witch. Lisa Helm Johanson becomes Little Red Ridinghood and Rapunzel, giving both of them their own distinctive goofy innocence. Laurie Veldheer is both a very practical spin on Cinderella, and Red’s granny.