The play interweaves the tales of the various legendary characters: A witch promises fertility to a childless couple if they can bring to her "the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold" - a collection of artifacts that happen to correspond with artifacts from Jack & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Cinderella. All the characters face challenges during the quest, but Act 1 concludes with a happy ending to each storyline.
Sadly, things begin to deteriorate in Act 2. Instead of living happily ever after, the heroes confront everyday challenges, such as marital infidelity, the death of a loved one, deciding on a scapegoat, and battling a giant who descended from the sky to seek revenge for the death of her husband.
James Lapine's script provides enough humor and twists to keep us entertained for almost three hours while comforting us with the stories from our childhood.
Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics are excellent, as always. The legendary composer and lyricist, who passed away in 2021, achieves a high mark - even by his own standards. His melodies are charming, and his lyrics are clever. In describing her aging cow, Jack's mother sings: "We've no time to sit and dither; While her withers wither with her."
The cast was superb. About half reprised roles they performed in a recent Broadway production. Gavin Creel and Jason Forbach particularly impressed as the two princes with their bright brightly-colored costumes and their exaggerated emotions. Kathy Geraghty stole the shown whenever she was on stage as a sassy Little Red Riding Hood, switching between skipping along happily to igniting into a tantrum. Unsurprisingly, real-life husband and wife Sebastian Arcelus and Stephanie J. Block showed great chemistry as the Baker and his Wife. Puppeteer Kennedy Kanagawa, who controlled Jack's sad but affectionate cow Milky White, did an excellent job portraying the emotions of the creature. He later returned with a friend, as they portrayed the female giant by marching giant shoes across the stage.
Tonight's cast was as enthusiastic as I have seen at a major theater production. The audience held their applause an extra few songs after each song and applauded each actor when they first appeared on stage. The enthusiasm may have been due to the abundance of children in the audience or the familiarity of the characters. Or it may have been a response to the excellent material and performances.