Fractured fairy tales

Theatre Three prances Into the Woods with charm

The melodies of Stephen Sondheim have elicited vastly different responses from those on opposite sides of the footlights. Performers and musicians wax endless about their tight, intricate, rising and falling rhythm. Some critics and audience members, on the other hand, have declared Sondheim a lazy melody maker, whose sophisticated wordplay is squeezed into a staccato song-speak that makes one tune sound pretty much like another.

As a critic who boasts two years of grade-school flute study, I must wield my expert musicianship without pity and declare that the protesters indeed have a point. For their highly developed sense of musical craft, I sentence them to a lifetime serving Andrew Lloyd Webber pianoside, turning the maudlin gazillionaire's sheet music one page at a time. I suggest those who complain are missing the point: When joined to the X-acto rip of Sondheim's awesome lyrics, bare melodies only intensify the impact of his words.

Sondheim's greatest contribution to American theater just might be his challenge to the musical tradition. He dares other composers to champion content over style, and invites audiences to ponder ideas above prettiness. When a company as sympathetic as Theatre Three extends the invitation, you just can't say no.

Into the Woods runs through September 29. Call 871-2933.

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