Review: Into the Woods | HerCanberra

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Review: Into the Woods

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In the past decade or so, it’s become popular to subvert traditional fairytales, or imagine ‘what if…?’.

Examples of this include the movie Shrek, the TV show Once Upon a Time, the comic book series Fables, and the book The Sleeper and the Spindle. But before all of these, there was Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Into the Woods.

I have to admit, the first time I’d heard of it was when the movie version was released last year. After watching it at the Ben & Jerry’s Openair Cinema, I really wanted to watch the musical. I got my chance sooner than expected, thanks to local theatre company Dramatic Productions including it in its 2015 season.

The premise behind Into the Woods is that a baker and his wife have been cursed with childlessness by the witch next door. To break the curse, they need to collect four particular objects by the third midnight. While undertaking this quest, they have encounters with Jack (of beanstalk fame), Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Rapunzel. During the musical, you find out if they succeed, and what happens after.

Before I share my thoughts on the show, I should confess that I am by no means a theatre critic, but I love musicals, I know what I like, and I also enjoy watching local productions.

I’m not sure if people realise, but a lot of the cast and crew involved in local productions do it on top of their full-time jobs or study—that means at least two nights a week and time on the weekends rehearsing, which ramps up as it gets closer to show time. This kind of dedication and love of the art is impressive, and should be acknowledged.

The commitment and enthusiasm of the cast was evident in this version of Into the Woods, and I would go so far as to say it’s one of the best and most enjoyable local productions I’ve seen.

To state the obvious, while it helps when the music and lyrics are good and the set is effective, the success of a musical ultimately comes down to the performances of the cast. And this cast was great.

In other local musicals I’ve seen, there’s usually one or two standouts who are the strongest singers and the most believable actors. In this one, you’d be hard pressed to narrow it down. There’s no chorus and the set, while striking, is simple, which means all focus is on the actors and their voices.

While Grant Pegg (the Baker), Kelly Roberts (the Witch), Philippa Murphy (Cinderella), Sian Harrington (Little Red Riding Hood) and Pippin Carroll (Jack) were particularly good, the rest of the cast certainly held their own. Everyone was believable, and I—along with the rest of the audience—quickly became invested in the characters.


You hoped that the baker and his wife would be successful, you sympathised with Jack and his cow, you felt Cinderella’s confusion, and you wondered at the witch’s motives. And who was the mysterious old man who kept popping up?

Special mention needs to be made of the two princes, who were so entertaining that you felt the energy and anticipation rise every time they appeared on stage to outdo each other in hilarious fashion. And, if you decide to see the show (you really should), look out for a suave, smooth-talking wolf (big props to the make-up artists for his look!).

The set was impressive and the costumes were great, as were the props, which provided some comic relief in the form of farm animals (you’ll need to go to see what I mean). Also impressive was how these made it out of a semi-trailer and into the building. They were borrowed from the Victorian Opera, and my friend Michael Miller, a stalwart of the Canberra musical scene, told me how the semi-trailer had rolled up and director Richard Block had to quickly find people to help him unload it. It took Richard, Michael, and three others more than five hours to move everything. When you see the set, you’ll see why.

I watched Into the Woods with a friend who didn’t know the story. The first act is quite long, and could really be a musical in itself. The first act finale was so resounding that my friend actually thought it was the final finale and the show was over. If you like happy endings, this is probably where you’d want to leave—but then you’d miss out on the excitement of what happens next, and my personal favourite performance of the night.

I said before that the actors were believable, and for me this particularly came through during the song ‘No One is Alone’, which gets you, as they say, ‘right in the feels’.

Whether you’re a regular attendee of Canberra musicals or you’ve never been before, this production of Into the Woods is one that is well worth seeing.

the essentials
What: Into the Woods
When: 28 August – 12 September 2015
Where: Gungahlin College Theatre, 23 Gozzard St, Gungahlin
How much: Adults $49.50, Concession $43.50, Child (under 16) $36.50. Group discounts and dinner (at Siren) and show packages also available.

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