Topsy-Turvy Fairy Tales Flower Downtown

The classic tales-intersecting treat is cheeky, charming three decades along.

Let's just state this as baldly as we can, no ifs, ands, buts, magical spells, or portentous prophecies about it: You're probably something of an expert in the field of fairy tales.

We're not going to even wonder if you know every word to "Let It Go," because you totally do, nor are we going to doubt that you can predict which prince will ride in at the perfect moment, warbling the perfect ballad (you're onto this outcome from the outset).

Making fairy tales surprising is as challenging as climbing up a tower via a braid, making a wolf-free journey to Grandmother's house, and not encountering any giants after scaling an enchanted vine. But musical masters Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine did it, and over three decades ago, too, in the oft-sung, oft-referenced, oft-hailed, started-in-San-Diego "Into the Woods."

But though "Into the Woods" has some "ofts" to it, it isn't often to find a production that relies heavily on heavy drapery and complex sets and serious stage pieces. Which makes the Fiasco Theater interpretation, currently on at The Ahmanson through Sunday, May 14, a sparkly surprise in a sometimes unsurprising fairy tale field.

A host of well-known stories, starring Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, a powerful Witch, the Baker and the Baker's Wife, Jack of "the Beanstalk" fame all cheerfully collide, as is the whimsical way with "Into the Woods," but Fiasco's take is to take away any of the trappings that can clutter the strong singing, the sass, and those gentle moments of intrafamilial understanding.

This means that the lean 'n lively troupe is on a stripped-down stage in neutral-hued togs, with costume-y additions here and there. There, of course, has to be a red riding hood for a certain character, and a witch must look the glam part.

As for the music? Look for a movable piano, and ride-along pianist, to provide sprightly accompaniment (as well as several other played-by-the-actors instruments that pop up, here and there, throughout).

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"Into the Woods" arrived a few years before the famous Disney animation renaissance of the late '80s and early '90s, a period that re-introduced kids, and grown-ups, to an abiding affection for classic, Grimms Brothers-style yarns.

The Broadway-famous musical has lasted, too, in hundreds of high school productions, and re-returns to major stages, over the decades.

Perhaps that's because fairy tale archetypes can become so familiar to us that an offbeat treatment, one that sends the iconic characters skipping/tripping headlong into the wrong fairy tale, gives something within our story-loving hearts a pleasant jolt.

The familiar made unfamiliar, but in a funny, feel-good way, with plenty of fairy tale-sweet stardust to sprinkle about, liberally. If springtime has you in this happy headspace, skip for The Ahmanson, in your own red riding hood, for a re-look and re-think of the fairy tale universe.

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