The Woods Via Sondheim (and a little Freud)
A musical here is a pleasure to watch and hear
by Chris Lane
Montreal’s newest theatre company scores a hit with their first production, performing the bitingly funny and engaging Into the Woods. The musical, by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (book), is an original tale that plays on the stories of Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel.
The cast was blessed with a script full of interesting new versions of familiar characters, with loads of very funny lines.
At the centre of the story are a baker and his wife who have been cursed with infertility by a witch seeking revenge on the baker’s father. She offers to lift the curse and allow them to bear children if they venture into the woods and bring her back Little Red Riding Hood’s cape, Jack’s cow, Cinderella’s slipper and some of Rapunzel’s hair, allowing the audience to watch each of those stories playing out in a somewhat altered manner. The play seems to conclude at the end of the first act as the characters appear to have resolved their separate tales, but some of their actions lead to disastrous results in some new twists to the well-worn fairy tales.
Before the brand-new theatre company had even had a performance, a wrench was thrown in the works and their performance appeared to be in jeopardy, as they lost their performance space due to the job action happening at McGill. Fortunately, they found a new space and made it their own, delivering an excellent show on a stage that could have been designed for their whimsical and attractive set.
As this play follows multiple intermingling storylines, it requires numerous strong performers, which it certainly had, without any one actor overshadowing the others. The cast was blessed with a script full of interesting new versions of familiar characters, with loads of very funny lines. Some highlights were Tara Bissett as a wonderfully wicked, yet well-rounded, witch who could rap as well as she could sing. Bryna Weiss sparkled as Cinderella, Elizabeth Conway was delightful as a gluttonous and somewhat gruesome Riding Hood, and Mike Sornberger was entertaining as the narrator and a kooky and mysterious man in the story. Ryan Peters and Kenny Wong paired up as princes who seemed more suited to starting a boy band than ruling a magic kingdom, with Peters somehow managing to be equally suave and slimy in his two roles as Prince Charming and the Big Bad Wolf. The rest of the cast all carried their roles successfully, from the endearing Jack to Cinderella’s wonderfully despicable step-family. Even Milky-White the cow was well-animated by the show’s director himself, Jonathan Keijser.
The mixing of multiple fairy tales in this musical is fun, although some of the connections seem rather weak.
While enjoyable throughout, the show did seem long, partly because the intermission feels like the end of the play as the fairy tales as we know them had been largely resolved. The mixing of multiple fairy tales in this musical is fun, although some of the connections seem rather weak. In this production, some of the transitions lagged a bit, but every scene was fun once it got moving. The songs were all a pleasure to watch and hear, particularly the wolf’s comical “Hello, Little Girl,” the witch’s dark “Last Midnight” and the whole company’s rousing “Into the Woods.” “No One is Alone” serves up the obligatory moral for the fairy tale by connecting the lessons the characters should have learned about fidelity to family and community.
Into the Woods is a cleverly written musical, and Music Theatre Montreal, while not embellishing it much, definitely did it justice, with strong musical and comedic performances by the cast and orchestra.
See Into the Woods October 13th to 15th and 19th to 21st at 7:30pm, or on the 15th at 1:00pm in D.B. Clarke theatre, in the basement of 1455 de Maisonneuve Ouest.