Review by Danny Gaisin
Given my own biases, I’m ambivalent about critiquing any play by Sondheim. He may have an iconic status, but this scrivener finds him notoriously repetitious and thus – boring. However, one cannot deny that he undertakes subjective challenges and doesn’t balk at taboos. “INTO The WOODS” has, and is – both.
With the 5-week teachers strike from October 15th until mid-November; Sheridan’s Theatre Arts Faculty started rehearsals under self-managed production & direction. The result is both professional and polished… four years of tutelage has certainly paid off.
The plots consolidate familiar fairy tales and is divided into two distinct acts. The first is the requisite story lines and interaction.
Act II is a philosophical morality play that depicts the disillusionment; suspicions; anxieties and even paranoia that is never far below the surface of humanity…even with fairytale heros & heroines.
Plot-wise, the baker & his wife want a child but are cursed. To cancel the hex they must collect four items and thus must go “Into the Woods”. Jack & his cow, in order to reach the market must go “Into the Woods”. Red Riding Hood’s route to Gramma’s must take her “Into The Woods”. To find Rapunzel’s tower, one needs to head “Into The Woods”. For the Prince to find his Cinderella, requires a search taken “Into The Woods”. Get the (repetitious) picture?
The director, Brynn Cutcliffe also plays Cindy’s stepmom. Instead of elaborate sets & props, the cast members become the immobile and frozen-faced statues of the arboreal denizens that proliferate said ‘Woods’. It’s clever, effective and necessitate instant synchronization. Blocking too, given the Studio’s traverse stage set-up, requires ingenuity and Cutcliffe enables almost all of the verbose dialogue & Sondheim’s lyrics to be universally audible. Her assistant director is Kevin McLachlan whose on-stage role is that of ‘Mysterious Man’ who narrates the tales.
Trans-gender role portrayals abound. However, the acting skills are of such calibre that audiences soon disregard this aspect. Tyler Pearse‘s ‘Cinderella’ cleans up nicely, and while she (he) may not be an actual traffic-stopper, he’s cute! He’s also a credible ‘Cenerentola’, that could conceivably attract a prince. Said royal is LiamLynch, whose sibling Stephen Thakkar has the hots for Rapunzel’s hair (& bod). Both actors project the requisite charisma one would expect from heirs to a throne. Brittni Kenny’s Circe-like warble is amazing, she possesses an outstanding mezzo voice perfectly suited to the role.
The cow is Nathan Sartore and he possesses a most attractive facial smile that exudes wattage. The man also was responsible for assisting Josh Graetz’s choreography. Graetz portray’s Cinderella’s father in what is a rather miniscule support role. Too bad, his mobile facial expressions and body language seem natural and instinctive and deserving of more stage time. A major character is the Baker and Jonathan Corkal brings a ton of empathy into his portrayals, 1st as hopeful & determined ; then, a matured & responsible single parent ready to make sacrifices.
I was especially taken with Emily Robertson’s Red Riding Hood. Her voice, mannerisms and acting style dovetails with her character thus making the portrayal credible. Ingenuous; then muderous, then Lara Croft-ish when confronting the giant.
Unlike most Broadway musicals, especially those before the F/X styles of Webber, the songs are easily forgetable, but the princely duets about ‘Agony’ plus the Witch & Rapunzel’s soulful ‘Stay With Me’ are pleasing standouts. Adam White’s accompanying piano is tempered enough as to not overpower the vocal lyrics.
Word has it that “Into the Woods” is already a Sell-out. But there may be tickets available for ‘Trap Door‘ in the Main hall opening on Tuesday Jan. 9th