Review: Into the Woods

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Let’s face it – Sondheim is tough.  He makes his singers do things that no sane composer might otherwise do (except maybe in real opera).  And this is where it gets dangerous as you need a clever director and a great cast to get the most out of a Sondheim show.

Into the Woods is no different.  The intricacies of the music, the myriad of interlocking storylines and the sheer volume of words in this fun take on fairy tales makes for a very tough show to perform.  Fortunately, for the most part, the cast does an admirable job in handling everything that Sondheim can throw at athem.

Combining such diverse fairy tales as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and Beanstock, and others – into a single story is a terrific premise.  And to mix things up even more, what if the clichés that we come to expect from the characters within these beloved fairytales are sometimes turned on their head?  Take Prince Charming for instance, what happens if he is not so, well, charming?  You get the idea.  Sondheim takes some very familiar characters, whips them into a frenzy within this single story and voila, we have Into the Woods.

Standouts of the show include Linda Quibell as the Witch who even after losing her powers and becoming a “normal” person still has the appropriate edginess of someone wondering if they made the right choice to give up on the dark side.  Katey Wright as The Bakers Wife is somewhat uneven but really shines in her solo bits of “No One is Alone” at the end of the show.  And Ingrid Nilson as Little Red Riding Hood brings a bit of insanity to her role that is such a delightful twist, in a serial killer kind of way, to the naivety of our childhood memories of Little Red Riding Hood.

We had hoped for so much more from the Prince Charmings and although Ryan Reid and Jonathan Winsby definitely bring a slight bent to who we think a Prince Charming should be, it is Winsby who steals the show from his brother Prince but only because he also plays double-duty in the absolutely delicious, although brief, role of the Wolf.  Director Peter Jorgensen must take much of the blame for this though as he had such an opportunity with Reid and Winsby.

Where this cast really shines is in the ensemble numbers.  It is obvious that with the help of the entire cast they have the confidence and ability to handle Sondheim.  Unfortunately though, Sondheim doesn’t give them that many opportunities as a chorus.

At almost three hours in length, Into the Woods not only tests the actors but it also tests the audience in this very, very long show.  Maybe once the new Vancouver East Cultural Centre is opened in a few years, Patrick Street Productions will remount the show and, hopefully, with new seats it won’t be as uncomfortable to sit this long.

As the inaugural show for the newly formed Patrick Street Productions, this new team could not have chosen a more difficult show to let Vancouver audiences know what they are capable of and we can only assume things will get easier for them with future show choices.

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