San Franciscans once again have the chance to go see a major musical during its pre-Broadway tryout, getting to see a rough draft of a show that will assumably make the transfer to Broadway in the fall or next spring if all goes well. The last production to try out in San Francisco was Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which was a true smash hit when it made it to Broadway back in 2014, still raking in the cash today, three years later. The same producers as Beautiful have brought in Roman Holiday, a musical based on the 1953 romantic comedy film that launched Audrey Hepburn’s career and is today considered to be one of the most iconic films of the classic Hollywood era that uses Cole Porter standards to comprise its musical score.
Fiasco’s production of Into the Woods has no business performing in the Golden Gate Theatre’s 2,297-seat auditorium. This production, which is presented in the Paul Sills’ Story Theatre-inspired style of such shows as Peter and the Starcatcher or The Old Man and the Old Moon features a cast of 10, who all play their own instruments, an extra pianist, and not so much of a set as a ladder and a collection of found-object props in order to create the extremely elaborate environments of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s 1987 meta-musical. The staging is cluttered and very messy, but also brimming with creativity and imagination and works so well (and is so proportionally inexpensive to produce) that I’d be surprised if this style weren’t to become standard for future Into the Woods performances. It is also fundamentally small theatre, and deserves to be seen in a performance space small enough where the ramshackle quality can be appreciated rather than looking like the producers aren’t willing to spend the money to create a proper Into the Woods. That being said, you shouldn’t deny yourself the pleasure of this Into the Woods just because it fundamentally feels too small for the space its presented in.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch is the most shocking and honest musical of 1997. When it was written, transgender* issues were almost unheard of, with trans* women more frequently finding themselves at the center of a punchline than the center of a musical. Nowadays, however, trans* exposure is far more prevalent and attitudes towards the trans* community have thankfully evolved considerably. As a result, Hedwig feels more quaint than shocking, but it’s still a very solid work of ’90s musical theatre with a fantastic punk-pop score and rivals any show for entertainment value when given a perfect production. This touring production struggles from being mounted in rather poor taste, but features two knockout performances and still is a great evening out, as long as you don’t expect any kind of emotional honesty.