The Mountain Play is an adventure. After driving, hiking, biking or shuttling to the top of Mt. Tamalpais, one begins by making their way past booths selling all manner of merchandise (including seat cushions).
One heads to a stone seat amid picnicking families and scurrying alligator lizards. There is pre-show entertainment starting around 12:30pm. Then, at 2, around when the last of the fog burns off, the show begins. This year, that show is the Sondheim musical Into the Woods. It runs Sundays (and one Saturday) through June 18.
Directed and choreographed by Nicole Helfer with musical direction by Daniel Alley, it is a reimagining of classic fairytales which follows familiar plots and characters to their “happily ever after” point and then keeps going. Ultimately, it becomes a cautionary tale about being careful about what one wishes for.
It’s notoriously hard to do musicals outdoors, but The Mountain Play, which started in 1913, has 110 years of experience. The sound design (Bruce Vieira) is top-notch, the live orchestra (under supervisor David Möschler) is very good and the set (Andrea Bechert) serves the double purpose of staging and stealing one’s attention from the surrounding view.
Foremost among some excellent performances is Melissa WolfKlain’s consistently grounded Baker’s Wife. Similarly, Samantha Rose Cárdena’s pragmatic take on Cinderella gives the lines weight that they normally lack. Celeste Kamiya’s Red Riding Hood is a character that can easily slip into one-dimensionality, but Kamiya gives an excellent, fully realized performance.
Sadly, not everything was well executed. In a bold choice, two actors (Roy Eikleberry and Max Kligman) formed Wolf’s body, with its puppet head controlled by Eikleberry. The actors, however, were not costumed alike, didn’t act as one unit and often seemed to forget they were both visible. Puppetry requires a lot of training. As no puppet master is listed in the program, it would be easy to dismiss the slapdash cow and the disjointed Wolf as the result of a lack of expertise, except that the same concept was executed flawlessly on The Giant puppet.
There were similar issues in Amie Schow’s costuming. Her design consisted of interesting choices that served the story, but lacked on-stage cohesiveness.
It doesn’t matter if the play was excellent, terrible, or like this production, an entertaining show with rough edges. The Mountain Play is well-worth experiencing. Splurge on the seat cushions, though. We aren’t joking about the stone seats.
‘Into the Woods’ runs Sundays through June 18 (and Saturday, June 10), at the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre in Mount Tamalpais State Park. 801 Panoramic Hwy., Mill Valley. 2pm. $25–$190. 415.383.1100. www.mountainplay.org.