The Savoy Theatre’s superb production of the musical Into The Woods has it all: an iconic revisionist script with book by James Lapine and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, a dozen and a half multi-talented performers giving it their all, near perfect production values, and first-rate direction by Robyn Cathcart.
The story of Into The Woods takes a clutch of familiar fairy tales (Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood) and mashes them up with a modern dose of ambivalence, cynicism, and irony. The first act ends happily enough but the second act continues the various stories into darker territory: the charming prince turns out to not be “sincere”, characters fret about the difference between being “nice” and being “good”, and the consequences of their Act One actions come stomping through the forest.
At the time of its debut in the 1980’s, Into The Woods was considered ground-breaking, startling, and maybe too dark for a pleasant night out at the theatre. Nearly thirty years on, mainstream audiences have finally caught up to the ’80s; some of the tropes of the similarly themed The Watchmen graphic novel found their way into Pixar’s The Incredibles, and ABC’s Once Upon A Time series seems a non-musical take on this show’s themes.
The audience that I sat with at the Savoy Friday evening had a lot of young teens and, in the row behind where I sat, a mom and dad with very young kids. They enjoyed the show but parents should consider the fact there is no second act in children’s theatre, even if there is an actual second act and especially if it is scored by Stephen Sondheim.
The Savoy production boasts an exceptional cast. Every performance was fully crafted and beautifully performed and wondrously sung and all my comments on individual performances come with that overall observation.
Holly Muise gave a nuanced performance as The Witch including a wickedly funny rap; Katherine Woodford’s Cinderella had charm and probably the most depth of the broadly drawn characters; and tiny Julia Rideout was a sassy, bratty scene-stealing delight as Little Red Riding Hood (reminded me of Heather Rankin in the early days of the Summertime Revue).
Hugh Toner brought an earnest decency to his Baker and Angela Duhamel was tough on top, vulnerable underneath as the Baker’s Wife. Heather Merrill was a hiss-able Cinderella’s Stepmom and a surprisingly blood thirsty Red’s Grandma (that apple didn’t fall far from that tree), and Nicole Drohan and Gayle Lahey-Marsh as Cinderella’s stepsisters found their comedic sweet spot after the birds pecked out their eyes (kids’ stories, eh?).
Matthew William Babstock gave his Jack a sweet naiveté, countered by the exasperated pragmatism of Carol Anne Gillis’ performance as his Mother (as well as a touchingly sung Cinderella’s Mother and angry Giant).
Wesley Colford and Ron Newcombe were perfectly cast as the two Princes who were more into one-upping each other than conducting a mature relationship. Colford had a perfectly played seduction second act scene.
The beautifully voiced Emily O’Leary made an affecting Rapunzel who can’t sing away her woes, and Greg Woodford was funny as the stolid Narrator and the annoyingly mysterious Mysterious Man.
The always dependable Colin Appleton was a fine unctuous Steward but was an audience favourite as the mute but expressive Milky White the Cow. And George MacKenzie was a sly, sexy treat as the Wolf with a barely PG rated tumescent cod piece.
Cathcart, besides casting a brilliant group of performers for a well-chosen script, kept the momentum of the show at a lively pace. With his technical crew, he created an onstage world that was truly magical, scary, funny, and disturbing. It was his strongest work to date.
Barb Stetter and her pit orchestra were note perfect in a bravo performance as they navigated Sondheim’s difficult score. The stunning production values were created by set designer and builder Bruce Cathcart, lighting designer Dave Bailey (with Robyn Cathcart), costume co-ordinator Lorenda MacLeod-Loder, and hair and make-up by CBBC Aspirations hair and aesthetics. And special mention goes to production manager Cynthia Lahey for making a big production run so smoothly.
This is an entertaining and thought-provoking show. It is well worth trying to catch its final performance Sunday at 2 pm.