Into the Woods Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim Book by James Lapine

Dates and Venue 7 – 29 March 2008 @ 8pm | Vancouver East Cultural Centre


Reviewer Ed Farolan

Consider Sondheim as the enfant terrible of Broadway musicals. Unlike the sweet, molassy-type musicals of old, this lyricist puts a twist to his compositions making them instead a genre that could be tagged the musicale noire. Add to this Lapine's morbid storyline to the Grimm fairytales making them even grimmer.

Take Sweeney Todd, for example. What is so entertaining about murdering and butchering people for consumption? The same morbidity occurs in this musical fairy tale which is a mish-mash of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and The Baker and His Wife all-in-one.

Here, we are posed with the "what if" situation. What if Prince Charming isn't really charming? Well, then, he ends up being a seducer as he makes love to the Baker's wife in the woods, which, according to him, he's supposed to do because he's in the woods. Or what if Red Riding Hood isn't as innocent as she appears to be? Again, we see the other side of the coin and she ends up being the wolf hunter and killer instead of the innocent.

Peppered with these agonizing characters, the sugar coating comes on top with the musical genius that has garnered Sondheim with laurels, including an invitation to be the first Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University. Sondheim and Lapine are a team like Rodgers and Hammerstein, having collaborated in other musicals such as Sunday in the Park with George.

I must admit that the calibre of acting and singing in this production was excellent. Linda Quibell (The Witch) comes top in my list for best performance. Jennifer Toulmin (Cinderella) comes next; she has a beautiful voice, and what lingers in my mind was her last phrase in the Finale where she sings "happily ever after" and then makes the parenthetical remark, "I wish".

Ryan Reid and Jonathan Winsby as the princes played their roles tongue-in-cheek as intended for an adult audience, and for the children in attendance, in roles typical of Prince Charming; Megan Morrison as the maiden-gone-mad Rapunzel was quite convincing; and Ingrid Nilson (Little Red Riding Hood) again conveyed that certain eccentric quality that a child who appears innocent could indeed be evil.

The other actors/singers were fabulous, as expected of professionals, as they all are. The directing/ choreography of Peter Jorgensen was polished, as was the musical direction of Scott Knight. I congratulate Patrick Street Productions for this, its inaugural production, and I look forward to seeing more musicals presented here in Vancouver by local artists.

© 2008 Ed Farolan