There are few things more ambitious than a 99-Seat theatre having the cojones to present this difficult musical, but not much stops this stalwart company. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes it isn't for the Knightsbridge. This time out provides a quintessential example of those good and bad consequences wrapped up in one presentation.
On the plus side is the brilliant material, and the twisted retelling of well-known fairy tales lends itself perfectly to an intimate venue. It feels as though the kiddies should be here enjoying the fantasy, at least until Act Two, when things begin to get grim. The lovely little stage is whimsically festooned with stars, crepe paper branches, and enchanted-looking flowers leading right out to the audience exits, and, as with the magic of outdoor theatre, much can be exonerated in such a setting—especially with a show this brilliant and a cast this energetic.
Most praiseworthy in this journey to the place where the "ends justify the beans" is the music direction of Michael Collum, eliciting precision work from much of the fine ensemble. Particularly outstanding is Susan Brindley as the Witch, possessed of a glorious voice that could fill an opera house, but her performance is ironically better before her transformation from witchwear to restored beauty, when her facial expressions suddenly become too theatrical and exaggerated without the false nose. Donal Thoms-Cappello hilariously invents a refreshingly ditzy interpretation of Rapunzel's Prince.
Under the direction of Rene Guerrero, however, several actors need more guidance, and there's a lot of dreaded dead space between lines and song cues. But the worst contribution is the lighting design—with gaping unlit holes where actors sing in darkness—exacerbated by the miscuing of lights, as wrong areas are brought up as often as not. If this show shares a lighting plot with the theatre's concurrent A Midsummer Night's Dream, it should have been up to Guerrero to stage around the trouble spots, as well as the actors' responsibility to sense when they are warbling away in darkness. The final result is a bizarrely uneven show—but one that's still a most sincere, fanciful, and entertaining trek back into Sondheim-land.
"Into the Woods," presented by and at the Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A. Sat. 5 p.m., Sun. 6 p.m. Jul. 2-Aug. 13. $20-25. (323) 667-0955.