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Into the Woods

Date

20th October 2017

Society

Encore Productions

Venue

The Brindley Theatre

Type of Production

Musical

Director

Nick Cupit

Musical Director

Ashley M A Walsh

Report

Author: Louise Colohan

Into the Woods the musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by James Lapine. The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault fairy tales, exploring the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests. The main characters are taken from "Little Red Riding Hood", "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Rapunzel", and "Cinderella". The plot follows the story of a childless baker and his wife, as they set out on a quest to attain certain ingredient for their curse to be broken by the witch. On their journey they encounter various storybook characters.

A very complex and expressive score requires the most accomplished vocalists to deliver the piece in the manner to which it so rightly deserves. This was certainly the case at Encore’s production. Packed full of well-seasoned performers we were treated to an explosive evening of Sondheim.

A cleverly directed production brought to the fore the most amazing characterisation’s, often absent in other productions due to the fast pace of this piece, the difficulty of the score often overshadows the full characters that were created by the writer. Nick Cupit, achieved a great level of storytelling in his direction and for once I felt the audience left this show fully understanding the plot. The small yet wonderful touches he added allowed this piece to be more audience friendly, the opening scene of “school students” being set a challenge of exploring each story to find the moral was a really great way to set this piece off, the placement of your musical director on stage and his reaction and involvement was nothing more than hilarious. These moments, for me, were great additions and I commend you for your vision and inclusion of these.

This piece cannot be successful without a very committed Musical Director, condensing this large orchestration to a four piece and not losing any of the robustness of the score was greatly achieved by Ashley M A Walsh, a brave and yet rewarding move. The music was ever present but never distracting which is the beauty of Sondheim, the voice and music blend very nicely. The balance of the band was excellent. Ashley’s inclusion within some parts of the production showed what good humor he has, he certainly went for it. A job very well executed.

The casting of this production was the key to its success. Each fully committing to the role and delivering some excellent performances.

Josh Hankey as the Baker gave a solid performance both in character and vocal, Josh has the most expressive vocal and uses this to his advantage in this piece. A straight played role with small touches of comedy scattered in the first act, the second act sees a more serious role take to the fore, the last few scenes being a triumph for this young man.

Rachel Sutton as The Baker’s Wife was simply beautiful in her delivery, a tremendous voice which I feel has even more to offer than what we heard on the night, “Moment’s in the woods” was excellent in delivery and portrayal of character. Nice balanced performance throughout.

Rosie Shields as The Witch, a standout performance from this lady. A great grasp on the role from her very first entrance, she engaged, drew us in and kept us right in the palm of her hand until the very end. This lady has such empathy and character in her vocal, it was such a pleasure to watch this performance. Displaying great ability in her vocal “The Spell is on our house” right through to “Lament” (reprise of stay with me) and “Last Midnight”. Excellent, heartfelt performance.

Kit Philips as Cinderella’s Prince, played with finesse and milked for all its comedic worth. The most accomplished of actors who has exceptional timing in both the verbal and physical elements of his role. A definite audience pleaser.

Natalie Hayes brought to life a very beautiful and sincere Cinderella, sweet in voice and so dainty to watch on stage she was the perfect casting decision for this role. A great rendition of “On the Steps of the Palace.” Tears were brought to my eyes in the number “No One is Alone”.

Daniel Richter, gave energy to the role of Rapunzel’s Prince. Daniel gave much more substance to this role than I have seen previously, this role is often shaded by Cinderella’s Prince but I am happy to say this was not the case in this production. Both these characters worked flawlessly together and really brought something new to the piece.

Hayley Northey as the very lovely Rapunzel has the most beautiful vocal, she was most suited to this role. She worked well with The Witch and displayed some lovely emotion during “Stay with Me”.

Jake Hankey as Jack, brought some new elements to this role, a “Simple Simon” attitude made his story so believable. Excellent performance throughout, particularly his comedic delivery which cannot go unnoticed. A lovely heartfelt retention of “Giants in the Sky” and “I Guess this is Goodbye” had moments of pure sadness and comic gold in equal measure. A most impressive interpretation of this role.

Laura Cupit gave a nervous edge to Little Red Riding Hood, a lovely performance with nice comic timing coupled with a beautiful, confident vocal. She had a real innocence on stage and my heart broke during “No One is Alone” as I could see genuine emotion on her face.  “I know things now” was perfectly sung and acted. Her interaction with other characters was excellent.

Neil Atherton as the Wolf, had all the sleaziness required for this role, his body language echoed his interpretation perfectly. “Hello Little Girl” was delivered as it should be portraying the darkness of the character and not playing on the comedy as other productions in the past have. The addition of the second wolf and the Three Little Pigs was just enough to lighten the mood.

Claire Cannon as Cinderella’s Mother, I wished this character had more to sing as the voice here was exceptional, so smooth and the clarity was perfect. Claire made the most of her stage time.

Annabelle Taylor & Christina Wernham provided super comedy. I particularly enjoyed them once they had been blinded. Excellent work ladies.

Cinderella’s Mother, Chele Dean, played a nice role and reacted very well within her scenes. Her comedic talent came through in “Careful my toe” where she excelled in her role.

Jacks Mum was very nicely adapted by Jane Newey, she gave a fine performance and managed the vocal in the opening segment well.

The Steward was certainly brought to a new level by Michael Pirks, hilarious performance and he never missed an opportunity to make us laugh. A good character gave lovely new layers to this piece hence making it much more interesting.

Mysterious Man, Andy McQuoid played his role well, there were times we struggled to understand him. I must mention his song “No More” it was the sincerest performance of this piece, it left me feeling that this role has much to offer and it often over-looked. For that I say take a bow, it really was excellent.

Narrators, Dawn Lloyd & Sarah Pomfret, ever present, they kept the piece moving along nicely. I felt some nerves for the opening few scenes, which gave us some issues understanding them but they eventually settled into it and gave good performances.

The Cow operated by James Sutton, excellent work, never distracted us form the action. A mean task to try and blend in and ultimately be a ghost.

My only negative comment… on the night I attended the lighting ques were very slow. At times I could see the actors looking for light to stand in so they could be seen. However, this did not take away from the standard of the performance.

The staging was creative, offering many different levels to the actors to play upon. Layers of foliage and leafy trees looked superb when complimented by the artistic lighting plot. The addition of the leaves and the flowers on the stage added real beauty to the overall look.

Overall, Encore delivered a stunning performance of a very difficult musical. The work between the cast and individually was nothing less than excellent. It is well-known that this is one of my favorite musicals and I was so pleased with the production I saw. The characters were so fresh, real and had a new life with this casting. Thank you for the most enjoyable evening and I look forward to my return visit.