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Into the Woods

Into the Woods programme pic.

Music arid Lyrict by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Director: Wayne Harrison
Musical director Brian Stacey
Associate director Tony Bartuccio
Set designer: John Senczuk
Cotcume designer Angus Strathie
Lighting designer Roger Barratt


Cast:


Synopsis:

The plot of Into the Woods is novel indeed. Steven Sondheim and James Lapine have intertwined the stories of various familiar fairy tales with an original story of a childless Baker and his Wife, who are the focus of the story by attempting to reverse a curse on their family in order to have a child. Thus creating a single even bigger fairy tale.

In the first act, the characters set out to achieve their goal of living "Happily Ever After" through familiar routes. Cinderella goes to the Ball and captures the heart of Prince Charming, Jack climbs the Beanstalk and finds a land of Giants and Gold, Little Red Riding Hood survives her clash with the wolf at Grandma's house, and Rapunzel manages to escape her tower with the aid of a handsome prince who climbs her long hair.

The Baker and his wife must enter the woods to assemble the ingredients for a potion required by their neighbour, the Witch, to remove a curse preventing them from having a child. In their search, the Baker and his wife meet up with Jack, Red Riding Hood, and the Wolf, as well as Cinderella, Rapunzel, and their respective Princes.

These characters are all busy with their own fairy tales, but each possesses one ingredient for the potion. . Those ingredients are: A Slipper As Pure As Gold, which the Baker's wife gets from Cinderella, A Cow As White As Milk, which the Baker buys from Jack in exchange for the fateful magic beans, A Cape As Red As Blood, which the Baker gets from Little Red Riding Hood in exchange for freeing her and Granny from the Wolf, and Hair As Yellow As Corn, which they get from Rapunzel. The ingredients are gathered, and the spell works, stripping the Witch of her power, but restoring her beauty. By the end of Act One, the curse is lifted, Jack kills the giant and is rich from stolen gold, the Wolf is killed, each damsel gets her respective Prince. At the end of Act I, all characters seem poised to live "Happily Ever After", but do they?

In Act Two, all the characters must deal with what happens after "Happily Ever After". As they face a genuine threat to their community, they realise that all actions have consequences. They are forced into the Wood to escape the giant's wife, who has come down to earth on an errant beanstalk to get revenge for her husband's untimely demise.

After a good deal of squabbling ensues and some characters are killed the Baker decides it's time they take responsibility. Their realise that their lives are inescapably interdependent, but also its that interdependence that is their greatest strength, so the group finally bands together to dispose of the giant's wife. Like all fairy tales, there are some overt messages in all this that we are invited to take home with us.


Philip as the Prince Musical Numbers

Act One

  1. Prologue: Into the Woods - Narrator and Company
  2. Hello, Little Girl - Wolf and Little Red Ridinghood
  3. I Guess This Is Goodbye - Jack
  4. Maybe They're Magic - Baker and Baker's Wife
  5. Our Little World I Know Things Now - Little Red Ridinghood
  6. A Very Nice Prince - Cinderella and Baker's Wife
  7. Giants in the Sky - Jack
  8. Agony - Cinderella's Prince and Rapunzel's Prince
  9. It Takes Two - Baker's Wife and Baker
  10. Stay With Me - Witch and Rapunzel
  11. On the Steps of the Palace - Cinderella
  12. Ever After - Narrator and Company

Act Two

  1. Prologue: So Happy - Narrator and Company
  2. Agony (reprise) - Cinderella's Prince and Rapunzel's Prince
  3. Lament - Witch
  4. Any Moment Cinderella's Prince and Baker's Wife
  5. Moments in the Woods - Baker's Wife
  6. Your Fault - Baker, Jack, Little Red Ridinghood, Witch, Cinderella
  7. Last Midnight - Witch No More - Baker and Mysterious Man
  8. No One Is Alone - Cinderella, Little Red Ridinghood, Baker, Jack
  9. Finale: Children Will Listen - Witch and Company


STC kills the giant - and creates a hit Into the Woods

Reviewed by Ken Healey The Sun-Herald March 28, 1993

Sydney Theatre Company, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Director Wayne Harrison

At last the Sydney Theatre Company has killed the giant! After what seemed like weeks of having its complex set machinery stomped on by his massive, malign foot, and the glottises of its singers pulverized by his fingers, the STC has smeared pitch in his path and sent its songbirds to pluck out his eyes.

What songbirds they are too! The cast not only sing, they also act convincingly. In Angus Strathie's imaginative and detailed costumes they beat out Mr Sondheim's erudite rhythms on Ian Senczuk's formerly cursed set. The lifting of that particular curse blows the stage floor to approximate the double helix of the newly-opened carpark. Technology has either triumphed or been overcome, depending on your viewpoint. If any of the above seems obscure to readers who may have recently returned from a private space, conquering the giant is the burden of the second act of Stephen Sondheim's magical musical, during the first act of which characters from a clutch of our favourite fairy tales interact with each other in an increasingly adult way.

The trouble probably starts with Jack's slaying of the Giant up the beanstalk. His wife clomps in after interval to crush anyone under the tonnage of her feet.

There are Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and her Prince, the Baker and his Wife, not to mention the ugly sisters and the last-minute appearance of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Wayne Harrison's production is a triumph, at whatever mechanical, psychological and financial cost. On watching the Broadway production on television I had the distinct impression that this show, though brilliant in sweep, might prove to be too cerebral, too dry.

The Sydney cast exudes a certain drollness, an understated sense of fun that stops well short of commenting on what they're doing. They are adult performers exploring for adults a collage of kids' stories, so they knowingly share their relish with us. It's largely a matter of their joyous attitude to Sondheim's intricately rhyming lyrics. For the most part, James Lapine's book in ingenious, being labyrinthine without ever becoming complicated. The Seven Deadly Sins are exhibited in the second act, and shown as mundane activities of ordinary people who just happen to be in ana interlocking serious of myths.

I find the show's ending, which culminates in the singing of the Lloyd Webber-like 'No-One is Alone' to be American schmaltz, where the logic of the fine book demands something closer to catastrophe, or if that is unsaleable, then an impenetrable mystery.

The cast is uniformly strong, led by Philip Quast as the charmingest of princes. He also contributes a cameo as the sexiest wolf ever to devour a grandma. Judi Connelli is a witch of genuine power. Dean Macrae a freckled boy-next-door of a Jack, Pippa Grandison a petite blond Cinderella with inner strength, and Sharon Millerchip a knowing little girl inside a big red hood. In the key roles of the Baker and his Wife, Tony Sheldon and Geraldine Turner propel the narrative in an odd way; she is always overtly the stronger, whereas the book points to a different dynamic. Nonetheless, they are a compellingly watchable couple.

Brian Stacey's orchestra accompanies with miraculous feeling for the singers' needs, from an unlikely perch high above and behind the wondrous double-raked revolve, which give the impression that if its revolutions speeded up, they would provide a crazy fun fair in their own right. That's what a fine production of this musical should do - send the critic into a phantasmagoria that spins off from the stimulating fun and insight of the show itself.


Philip as the Prince

Hit and Myth in Light, Dark World

Sydney Theatre Company Review by Bod Evans The Sydney Morning Herald 22/03/1993

Like the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, which provide the raw material for Into the Woods there is much in this musical that is magical and entrancing. There is also much that is deep, dark and ominous so that it evokes both pity and joy, laughter and tears.

Sondheim has a reputation for a being a difficult composer, a writer of labyrinthian lyrics hitched to jerky stop-start scores.

If ever it were really true, it is certainly not true of Into the Woods. Into the Woods is one of my all time favourite musicals. Just as the sight of Red Riding Hood makes the Wolf's mouth water, I can savour the lordly ring of truth in Sondheim's lyrics and find my heart skipping along to melodies that sprout like Jack's beanstalk out of nursery rhyme tunes.

More than that I am enchanted by the mythic adventure which Sondheim and his collaborator, James Lapine, have fashioned from the classic fairytales of Rapunzel. Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Red Riding Hood. The paths of all the characters involved in these tales, including the Wolf and the Witch, plus pairs of Handsome Princes, Ugly Sisters and Giants, cross in the woods.

It is a musical about quests, the pursuit of happiness, the fulfillment of dreams, the lifting of spells and the reversal of curses. The woods may just be trees as Red Riding Hood asserts, but they also represent that which is feared and must be faced. The woods are where aspiration leads, the place of challenges and consequences, where all of the characters are brought up against their own limitations. Some succeed, some fail. Some merely wander off, others vanish and some are squashed flat with a sickening crunch of bones under a giant's feet.

What is true for the characters in this musical is also true for this production by the Sydney Theatre Company. Into the Woods is a massive quest that sometimes must have seemed cursed with technical difficulties and illness.

To the great credit of Wayne Harrison, his associate director and choreographer, Tony Bartuccio, and the musical director, Brian Stacey, they conjure up some enormously satisfying aspects to this production. First among them is John Senczuk's set design based on the tilted twin-revolves turning one within the other.

As these turn they create an eerily shifting landscape where nothing is quite as it seems and anything can happen; a gloom where gnarled trees contain coffins and striking clocks; where princes can pursue damsels to their fickle hearts' content; and where a baker and his wife can assemble the ingredient's to a spell that will reverse a mother's curse upon her daughter and she, in her turn, will lift her spell on them and their family.

There are some memorable performances, beginning with Simon Chilvers doubling as the narrator and mysteriously spellbound old man; Sharon Millerchip as a street-wise Red Riding Hood; Philip Quast doubling as her lascivious Wolf and Cinderella's charming but faithless Prince; and, opposite him, D. J Foster as Rapunzel's Prince. Their renditions of Agony are a treat. Judi Connelli is commanding in the pivotal role of the Witch, while Dean Macrae as Jack and Pippa Grandison as Cinderella are equally authentic. Sadly, these qualities are lacking in the musical's central characters, the Baker and his Wife, played by Tony Sheldon and Geraldine Turner.

For a couple who are desperate to have a child, there is little chemistry between them. Turner sings well, but without feeling. Never content to stay in character, they can't resist playing to the crowd. She easily finds the ruthless pragmatism of the Wife, but doesn't locate her vulnerability or humanity when interacting with characters such as Cinderella and the Prince. Sheldon has the vulnerability but he never develops the strength that should become apparent in the Baker.

The dark quality of Act 2 is never quite achieved as the Happy Ever After feeling of Act 1 teeters on the brink of chaos with the arrival of the Giant, and people get killed or vanish under rubble.

The losses of parents and partners needs to be more keenly felt by those who survive. Even so, I would not have missed this musical for the world.

It is so good to see it and hear it because it has the power to sweep you up into its magical world which has so much to say to our everyday experience.


Technological problems finally surmounted

Rightfull, the Sydney Theatre Company production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into ihe Woods, which made its debut at the Sydney Opera House in mid-March, is doing a roaring trade.

Immense technological problems with the complicated revolve a small circular area within two independant concentric rings cancelled scene previews and forced a delay the scheduled premiere.

But by the time I saw it, on Tuesday, March 23, shortly after opening. it was as slick a piece of stagecraft as I have encountered in many a moon, and more than musically proficent enough, under the idiomatc and energetic baton of Brian Stacey, to satisfy all but the most narrowly one-eyed opera devotee. In comprison, the first airing of the piece in this country, a television version emanating from New York, was much less satisfying.

Despite the difficulties obviously encountered in making it work in the first place the Bennolong Point Drama Theatre is an acknowledged technological nightmare for any large scale production due to its minimal backstage area to which access is severely limited. John Senczuk's set design works superbly, facilitating the sort of exemplary flow of the action from scene to scene which is so vital to the successful staging of any musical.

The presentation of the giantess fated to be slain by Jack of beanstalk fame is a positive master stroke, first as an enormous pair of cardboard cutout legs and feet descending not quite to the knees from above the proscenium arch to crush those who are required to be crushed later in the form of bloodied face toppling onto the OP side of the stage.

Many of Angus Strathie's costumes are also exemplary and all are first rate, especially is realisation of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf in particular is a gem.

But these contributions to the resounding success of the STC's Into the Woods are finally less critical than extraordinarily pleasing and well balanced, cast assembled by the company.

Its Big Four, Geraldine Turner, Philip Quast, Judi Connelli, and Tony Sheldon in the order they are billed on the program are of course always good value on any stage; but as the evening progresses it rapidly becomes evident that this production is no mere vehicle for a tiny handful of star turns.

I still can't quite get over the memorable, and memorably fresh impact of Sharon Millerchip's Little Red Riding Hood skipping about the stage with an ebullient energy that simply has to be the envy of anyone in the audience above the age of 21, delivering her lines with exemplary impact, singing with a small yet thoroughly pleasing voice as required.

The precision choreographic teamwork of D.J. Foster as Rapunzel's Prince and Philip Quast as Cinderella's Prince is delicious, the way they bounce their lines off each other sheer delight. In his other persona, as the Big Bad Wolf, Quast is also a comic terror.

Melissa Jaffer gives a first rate performance as Jack's Mother, and Dean Macrae is ingratiatingly dim as the good-natured Jack.

As the Baker and his Wife, the central couple on whom the action largely focuses, Sheldon and Turner, on the other hand, do not come up with definitive contributions, their characters are a little fuzzy, they don't strike as many sparks off each other as one might have wished. Both performances are good rather than outstanding, which is a significant loss to the overall impact of the production.

Judi Connelli's Witch is perhaps a trifle toward the other end of the performance spectrum somewhat overdrawn, a little to loud. I rather like my witches like that, but some will find her a little over the top.

Everything in this production is inevitably miked, in contravention of traditional operatic performance practice, but rejecting such run of the mill accoutrements of the modern theatre even in certain, thankfully as yet limited quarters of mainstream operatic performance is becoming increasingly akin to objections of the blacksmiths union to the advert of the motor car well nigh a century ago now.

Only very rarely, to cite a case point, does the orchestra for Into the Woods achieve eyeball to eyeball contact with its audience or it can its sound possibly be heard unobstructed due to its positioning at the very rare of the stage area behind the performers. The musicians simply must be amplified in order to achieve any kind of useful projection into the audience area. Occasionally, individual voices are somewhat over reinforced, but generally the sound balance of this performance is as satisfying as its visual and histrionic aspects.

Like practically all of its predecessors in the remarkable Sondheim oeuvre, Into the Woods is an unconventional musical. His talent seems to be compulsively equipped with the sort of surprises that make its emanations as irresistible as each new one is unexpectedly different from all that has come before.

Who, for instance would have dream it possible to create a decidedly intoxicating musical out of the scenario of Sweeney Todd before Sondheim did it so magnificently.

Who, in the proximate case, would have credited that the device of bringing fairytale characters to life in scrambled juxtaposition to each other would produce workable children's theatre, let alone a viable musical containing not only plenty of entertainment for adults but more rare and valuable of all theatrical ingredients, provocation in thought?

Into the Woods gives us a vast repertory of characters we already know have known since childhood, and loved and/or hated or feared for years. But it then mixes them up on us, projecting them and us along with them into uncharted, intellectually provocative and challenging waters.

This is more than the extension of the parameters of Shakespeare's Hamlet involved in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, for instance, where imagination runs riot within context of the minor characters in a great play. In Into the Woods, we are very purposefully, and with the utmost seriousness, led into the menacing, unknown territory of outback fairyland.

Like the forest of Hansel and Gretel, these woods symbolise the unknown both fanciful, friendly and not so nice, and the great achievement of Wayne Harrison's production for the STC is that it manages to make manifest the deeper built in meanings of the piece more effectively and clearly than did the TV production.

In comparison it is much more full blooded obvious, if you like, but in the best sense, clear, rather than pussyfooting around the point. It deserves every bit of the considerable success at the box office, which brought Standing Room Only signs almost from the word go.


Review of Into The Woods by Sydney Morning Herald 10/04/93

I've met many hard-core Sondheim fans but I am not one of their number. However, the current production of Into the Woods in the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House may well signal my conversion. It's marvellous, and boasts as fine a cast as could be fielded for this musical anywhere in the world.

Geraldine Turner gets top billing and she's darned good but for my money Judy Connelli, Philip Quast and Sharon Millerchip gallop off with the evening's honours. All three are magnificent. I am always cautious about urging a show on readers but in this case I have no hesitation. A contingent of Germans, 250 passengers from the luxury cruise liner Europa, were in the audience last Monday and despite the difficulty they must have had comprehending Sondheim's intricate lyrics, they appeared to enjoy it every bit as much as the locals. Whatever you do, don't miss it.

A day or so later I was telling someone how much I'd enjoyed this show and mentioned Philip Quast. It transpired that the chap I was talking to knew the Quasts, a famous turkey-farming family from Tamworth. Young Philip has not been associated with a turkey (in the showbiz sense) for some time. Indeed, he's much in demand on the London stage as well as here. In between times, Philip likes to make an appearance on the television show that endeared him to legions of kids, the ABC's Playschool.


We would like to thank Matt and Elizabeth for providing us with these articles.



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