Into The Woods (Beenleigh Theatre Group)
Crete Street Theatre
February 18 – 26
The late Stephen Sondheim’s works are everywhere at the moment, including a gender-swapped revival of his ground-breaking musical comedy “Company” currently enjoying rave reviews on Broadway. In Beenleigh, however, audiences are heading “Into The Woods” to enjoy one of the greatest musical theatre composer and lyricist’s most enduring and popular works. And from the outset of Beenleigh Theatre Group’s production of the Tony Award winning musical, it is clear that the woods is the place to be. Its epic opening number not only earworms its theme tune into audience hearts, but showcases some of Sondheim’s wittiness lyrics, especially as an immediately-commanding witch (Danika Saal) begins rapping about the virtues of vegetables.
The classic, fairy tale adventure mashup that is “Into The Woods” incorporates plots and characters of several Brothers Grimm stories into an original plot in which a Baker (William Boyd) and his wife (Genevieve Tree) are sent off on a magical quest by the mysterious neighbouring witch to collect various items in order to break a curse that has left them childless. The first act follows their journey as they embark upon the very specific search for a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold, which brings them across Little Red Riding Hood, (Emma Burridge), Jack of the beanstalk fame (Aidan Cobb) and others.
From the moment the story opens once upon a time to its ‘Prologue: Into the Woods’, in which all the protagonists chorus together to explain their motivations for a trip into the forest, music is at the forefront of the show’s success. Indeed, this first taste of the complex score of beautiful, expressive melodies and bold brassing alike, affirms that under the musical direction of conductor Julie Whiting, the band (hidden away at the back of the stage as if in woods themselves), is more than up for the challenge.
At the emotional centre of the action is the hopeless yet hopeful Baker and his Wife. Boyd and Tree have an easy chemistry that endears them to the audience and their ‘It Takes Two’ duet is elevated by some lovely harmonies. Meanwhile, Saal is glorious as the antagonistic evil witch who prompts their scavenger hunt-like journey into the woods so they can reverse a curse to have a child. While ‘Children Will Listen’ is gorgeous, her earlier anthemic Act Two song, ‘Last Midnight’ is passionate and exciting in its dynamism.
Chloe Smith is also in fine voice as Cinderella, who seems to only encounter kindness when it comes from her feathered friends. She has a beautiful vocal tone making her ‘No One is Alone’ one of the evening’s highlights. Christopher Morphett-Wheatley and Darcy Rhodes dynamically prance about in play off each other’s bravado energy as the two (and two-dimensional) princes (Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel’s Prince), especially in the pantomime-esque ‘Agony’. Their frolic around while attempting to one-up each other in argument over who has it worse receives an enthusiastic audience response. And in his double as the Wolf, Morphett-Wheatley is beguiling in his stalk of Little Red Riding Hood (Emma Burridge) in ‘Hello, Little Girl’.
Burridge makes for a formidable Little Red Riding Hood, livening things with her every appearance, not only through her animated perkiness but impressive vocals. Her voice is consistently crisp and strong, even when with a mouth full of bread (as if Sondheim’s lyrics are already a mouthful!). And, along with Darcy White ‘as’ his emotive cow Milky-White, Aidan Cobb, as young Jack, gives us some unexpected ‘aww’ moments.
Like the realisation of Milky-White, staging effectively accounts for horse and carriage type props and big story aspects, even giving some standout moments such as our glimpse into what is going on inside Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s house. While missed microphone cues and static sometimes distract from audience engagement, Perry Sanders and Chris Art’s sound design works with Tom Dodds’ lighting design to effectively mark Act Two’s entrance of an angry giant to threaten the kingdom and challenge characters’ until-then fulfilment.
“Into The Woods” is a big musical of many characters and it takes times to tell their stories and then share the moral to be derived from them. The result is a long running time; Act One is almost self-contained, but then there is more as Act Two flips the story as the central characters are forced to band together in attempt to defeat the Giant. To the company’s credit, this production does well to make the twisted tale’s story somewhat easy to follow, especially as it transforms from a comic misadventure to an exploration of the consequences of actions. Even though it may come with a moral, however, this is no feel-good fairy tale for children, with its darkly humourous consideration of popular cultural myths.