Fairy tales with a twist
INTO THE WOODS
DIRECTOR: Steven Stead
CAST: Michael Richard, Jessica Sole, Earl Gregory, Kate Normington, and large Ensemble
MUSICAL SUPERVISOR/MD: Drew Bakker
CHOREOGRAPHER: Leigh Meyer
VENUE: Theatre on the Bay, until March 2
RATING: ★★★★✩ FEW PARENTS reading a bedtime fairy tale to drowsy offspring interrogate the sinister elements latent in the familiar fables featuring the likes of Cinderella, Jack (of Beanstalk fame) and Little Red Ridinghood, among others.
Stephen Sondheim’s startling, innovative and highly diverting treatment of children’s popular fiction takes an unedifying look at what happens after that “happily ever after” ending, accompanied by his signature music and clever lyrics.
The deftly staged production offers an evening of rewarding entertainment while exercising the intellect of its audience, as we realise that Jack is a thief and a murderer, Cinderella triumphs through borrowed finery, princes are brought up to be charming rather than faithful, while fear and death are omnipresent, presaged by witches and malevolent giants.
Stead’s staging is witty and well-devised, with a versatile set by Greg King ringing seamless changes from forest to palace to bakery; books are a leit-motif from start to finish, a reminder that they are the source of all this narrative, and the combination of Tina le Roux’s spooky lighting and Mark Malherbe’s equally eerie sound design creates the ambience of another world.
Solos and duets – notably the two from Nathan Kruger (Rapunzel’s Prince) and Zak Hendrikz (Cinderella’s Prince) – are clearly and pleasingly delivered. Spoken, as opposed to sung, words are on the whole enunciated impeccably.
Michael Richard, as the off-stage Narrator, doubles as Mysterious Man with his habitual polish, and it is he, together with Jessica Sole (the Baker’s Wife) who holds the large cast together and gives coherence to the heterogeneous amalgam of divers fairy tales making up the plot.
Kate Normington sizzles with energy as the Witch, Candice Van Litsenborgh stamps her role as Jack’s mother with comic authority, and Graeme Wicks is suitably gormless as Jack. Glamorous Haylea Heyns (Cinderella) sings up a storm, and the maturing talent of Earl Gregory makes the amiable Baker a credible character. As they venture into the woods to test their courage, each evolves to attract or repel the audience, according to Sondheim’s intentions. Let’s not omit the soulful-faced cow, a skilfully contrived puppet with a personality all its own.
Just as well notices in the theatre foyer advise the audience that there are two acts and an interval in this show, or many patrons would leave after the eventful first half imagining that all’s well that ends well. Part Two proves the contrary.
HAYLEA Heyns (Cinderella), Megan Rigby (Little Red Ridinghood), Graeme Wicks (Jack) and Kate Normington (The Witch) star in Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods.