Just in time for spring, the Guild brings us Into the Woods.
It’s a refreshing, colourful splash after a long, cold winter.
This is a solid performance by a great cast. Into the Woods has a very small libretto—which makes the cast’s accomplishment even more worthy of admiration. Nearly everything is sung. They pull it off with gusto!
The smaller venue of the Guild lets you hear their voices really well, especially in the big all-cast numbers, but also in the smaller solos.
There were very few times when I felt as if actors were holding back at big musical moments, or temporarily drowned by the music, but mostly, the audience is treated to a beautiful musical ensemble that really works.
Sondheim lyrics are meant to be candy coating with chewy centers. They are tongue twisters – as in these, from one Prince to another: “If it were not for the thicket/A thicket’s no trick, is it thick?/It’s the thickest/The quickest is pick it apart with a stick…”
See how fun that is?
At other times, Sondheim is deeply lyrical in his thoughts on life, parenthood, even love, as in these lyrics from the same song: “What’s as intriguing or half so fatiguing/as what’s out of reach…”
Brad L’Ecuyer is awesome on the piano and leads a talented ensemble.
Standout performances came from Rebecca Whitcher (Cinderella), Erica Bigland (Little Red Riding Hood), and Bronwyn Jones (the Witch).
Watch these three women’s faces – you can tell what’s going on in their brains by their eyes, their expressions; they double-work the songs and their voices are the strongest of the cast.
The princes (Winluck Wong and Christopher Tessier) nearly bring down the house on their two duets.
James McCullough (the Baker) comes into his own in the second act when he’s given several heartbreaking ballads.
Bronwyn tortures the cast, having fun as the Witch. I love her cart.
Strong voices from Nick Jeffrey (Jack), Shauna Jones (Baker’s Wife) and Mary McAvoy (Jack’s mother) carry their parts.
This musical is a must-see because we need the songs, we need the thought-provoking clever lyrics, we need the playfulness of this cast. You will not be disappointed.
But there is a darker side. Fairy tales, yes, are darker than we imagine.
Sondheim has followed Grimms’ Fairy Tales to the letter which gives you a more squeamish version of characters that got Disneyfied along the way.
I’m all for that.
And there’s no denying that Little Red Riding Hood has sexual overtones; it was written as a warning for young women.
So, I was intrigued by the substitution of a young girl instead of an old man as Narrator – and I was willing to follow her playing out these fairy tales with “kids”.
However, I think it was an odd directorial choice to set this in a playground.
Three times in the first act children are accosted by adults in the playground: a young boy is touched by a man in a trenchcoat no less, after the man has crawled out from under the stage.
A young girl is approached by a man and stripped of her outer clothing. The same young girl is a fantasy lapdance for a man – this around a slide and a merry-go-round.
I cringed. The visuals are horrific.
I know director Gerald Isaac’s vision was to make the woods a statement about “the unknown darkness within each human soul,” and that growing-up experiences give us strength. But by substituting a playground for the woods, he makes a safe space unsafe.
People aren’t leaving the safe space to go into the woods. His adults “play” in this space; they invade the space of childhood. They don’t grow up; they visually grow down. It doesn’t work for me on multiple levels.
The door on wheels doesn’t work either. It’s great for two columns of seats off the aisle; for everyone else, we can see around the door – it just becomes a barrier.
Some of the choreography muted the characters, most strikingly in “Your Fault”, an Act 2 song, where the emotion should have run high, but the characters were stuck in some Irish step dance.
Sarah Ott is a great narrator, but not when sieged by a strong chorus of voices and swept off her feet.
But you might want that! You too can be sieged by a strong chorus of voices and swept off your feet at the Guild. I loved this evening and the crowd roared all night.
Sondheim is The Musical, and with Into the Woods, he is at the top of his game. And this cast is at the top of its game. It’ll make you feel at the top of yours.
You’ll be humming the songs out into the woods, and into this blessed spring.
Into the Woods runs at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday until April 30, with matinee performances of the first act April 23 and 30.