Written by 7:55 pm Irvine, Merage JCC, Musical, Review, Theater, Uncategorized

Into the Woods @ Merage JCC – Review

(photo credit: Carina Morales /Merage JCC )

Written by Patrick Chavis

Stephen Sondiem’s dark musical fairy tale Into the Woods is at Merage JCC April 20 – 28, 2024.

Merage JCC’s production of Into the Woods gives fans of the musical plenty of its darker highlights — or, should I say, bloody highlights and a little more. Though it does play out rather conventionally, an artsy hand-drawn aesthetic from scenic designer Haven Hanson and performances from some very talented upcoming performers bring a little bit more to the table.


In the musical Into the Woods, a baker (Ron Gutterman) and his wife (Abigail Kinnahan) are cursed by a witch (Mabel Schreffler), who prevents them from having children. The only way to lift the curse is to provide the aging witch with four ingredients from various fairy tale characters. On their musical journey to collect the ingredients, they meet many other fairy tale characters.


Carina Morales’s direction of Into the Woods was pretty straightforward and transparent. Vocals took priority, which is not a bad thing. Overall, the ensemble provided more than adequate vocals for most of this production. The pacing was fast, and it made some of the acting feel forced, as if the actors were trying to get through it as soon as possible rather than being in the scene.

Set Design:

The set design from Haven Hanson uses a peach-colored set with what looks like hand-drawn lines to form the structure. Set pieces are put on rollers for functionality. A lifted riser is used for many applications. The night sky background is gorgeous, and there is smoke for days. It’s all quality work from Hanson.

This production’s shadow work and compelling, gruesome blood effects intensify certain scenes.


Claire Manson delivered a superb performance as Cinderella in this production. I can’t pick one tune; every tune she was in was performed wonderfully. Plus the physical side of the role — the running on stage, the stage falls — it was beautifully done.

Little Red Riding Hood (Emily Cintron) also performed incredibly well. She performed one of the better songs of the night, “I Know Things Now.”

When the ensemble is singing together, it sounded great.

While the music was prerecorded, the speaker system at J Stage did its job. The tune “No One is Alone” was performed and choreographed particularly well. Overall, this cast delivered a strong second act.

Despite some inconsistencies, this musical had intense moments and seems to get better with age.

7.9 Overall
7.9 Users (1 vote)
Set & Design8.2
What people say... 1 Leave your rating
Beautiful and Missing A Little Something
Sondheim’s Into the Woods is a magical story balancing the line of drama and far fetched comedy.
Let’s start with the critical. Though this show felt quite magical and truthful at times, the comedy felt beaten out of this rendition of the show. Classic, humorous lines were delivered quickly, passed over, and not given enough time for the audience to respond. And why did Little Red not eat while singing in the opening number? This is an Into the Woods staple! A friend who joined me did not follow the story line about Little Red eating all the food before getting to Grandmas house because we never knew she was eating them. We didn’t see this key gem from show.
The audience should be laughing quite a bit through the whole show but it was as if the goal was to make it more realistic and less humorous than it’s written. It’s a story about very colorful characters straight out of fairytales and felt like this was overlooked.
I did appreciate much of the directing when it came to exploring the dark parts of the story. I Know Things Now, No One is Alone, and both act one and 2 finales were well performed!
The costumes were brilliant! The cast really did their best with what they were given and with what humor was removed! There wasn’t a weak actor! All in all, the actors delivered a pleasant performance. Stand outs were Cinderella, the Granny, the Narrator, and the Evil Step Mother!
April 26, 2024, 11:06 pm
Set & Design8.1
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Above Average! April 20 – 28, 2024.

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