Into the Woods - Belvoir St (NSW)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by James Lapine. Directed by Eamon Flack.
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Belvoir St Theatre, Upstairs Theatre
18 MAR – 30 APR 23
- A unique facelift makes for a playful, yet uneven journey into the woods with a superb cast -
The late, great Stephen Sondheim left a legacy in the theatre world as large as a giant’s footprint. His works subverted what a musical could look and sound like, with his works holding immense amounts of pathos spat out through triumphantly tongue twisting musical lyrics. His twisted fairytale musical Into the Woods is perhaps his most commercialised due to its well-known characters and yet another subversion of audience expectations. Eamon Flack, in his first stroll into musical territory, takes this subversion and runs with it, applying a Cabaret-styled facelift to Sondheim’s work.
In this production, co-produced by the Hayes Theatre Company, there is a distinctly chosen style that’s been layered over Sondheim’s fairytale plot. Where the Hayes is often known for its large-scale musicals condensed with an abundance of creativity onto a small set, Belvoir is known for its grounded and stylised plays in its larger space.
Photo Credit: Christopher Hayles
The two companies' fingerprints are left all over this piece of work. Micka Agosta’s costume design brings a flamboyant cabaret feel to the costumes of the step-sisters, Tamsin Carroll’s Witch and Peter Carroll’s Narrator. Whilst Michael Hankin’s set design is left mostly bare, with blue-frilled curtains surrounding the stage in Act One, this is paired back in Act Two to present a much colder reflection of the woods in reflective glazed panels. Agosta and Hankin superbly meet to create outrageously creative and humorous creations in Tim Draxl’s disguised wolf, and Stefanie Caccamo’s locked away Rapunzel. The show’s pianist, Simon Holt, sits centre stage on a moving platform, guiding the actors along and sometimes finding himself interacting with falling trees and avoiding gigantic feet.
For all its creative spark and obvious care devoted to it by Flack, the production as a whole felt unfinished and under-rehearsed. This was obvious in the characters jumping over one another on the oddly crowded space, climbing over an abundance of streamers, meant to represent the scattered woods but instead becoming a distracting array of colours and sound. In the production’s record-breaking prologue length, David Bergman’s sound design was lost over uneven mic levels that were not cued or timed properly, creating a slightly chaotic introduction.
Sondheim’s Into the Woods, on the surface, could very well be two shows, with the first act being a succinctly told fairytale as we know it connected together by Justin Smith’s Baker and his Wife, the wonderful Esther Hannaford as they search for magical objects to break the Witch’s curse placed over their household. It all ends with "happily ever after", before Act Two explores the “ever after” part we’re never told, delving into notions of grief and loss. This is where the production truly finds its footing.
Whereas Act One is jumbled together with pantomime-esque qualities (magical disappearances with confetti and golden hair dropping from ceilings), Act Two hones in on the characters we’ve come to know in more depth. It’s here we receive standout songs from Hannaford whose can-do Baker’s Wife now deals with the fulfilment of her wish, as well as Smith’s Baker who brings a breadth of heart into his re-treading of his father’s footsteps.
Led by a masterful cast, there is much joy to be had with this journey into the woods
What is undeniable is the stellar cast chosen to tell the variety of fairy tales throughout. Tamsin Carroll’s Witch is a highlight, donning an odd transylvanian accent in parts, every appearance she makes brings a powerhouse voice, superb characterisation and some rib-tickling moments of humour, one such involving a skateboard. Continuing her exploration of Cinderella, Shubshri Kandiah dons the golden slippers once again to explore the character in more depth than when she played her in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s version. Draxl and Andrew Coshan shine in their Princely sibling rivalry in ‘Agony’, but could have done more with this to truly bring out their egotistical characters.
Marty Alix as Jack, Mo Lovegrove as Little Red Riding Hood, Caccamo as Rapunzel and Florinda, Lena Cruz as Jack’s Mum, Anne-Maree McDonald as the Stepmother and Carroll as The Narrator all bring their own flair and moments of heart and humour to James Lapine’s book.
Led by a masterful cast, there is much joy to be had with this journey into the woods. With further rehearsal or runs, the production has the qualities to truly find its magical footing. Audiences will scream with glee at the creative choices from the production team, whilst being moved from standout performances of the cast. As unique as the story itself, Belvoir’s Into the Woods dares you to venture with them on this truly magical ride.
MARTY ALIX JACK & STEWARD
STEFANIE CACCAMO RAPUNZEL, FLORINDA & GRANNY
PETER CARROLL MYSTERIOUS MAN, NARRATOR & CINDERELLA’S FATHER
TAMSIN CARROLL WITCH
ANDREW COSHAN RAPUNZEL’S PRINCE & LUCINDA
LENA CRUZ JACK’S MOTHER
TIM DRAXL CINDERELLA’S PRINCE & WOLF
ESTHER HANNAFORD BAKER’S WIFE
SIMON HOLT PIANO 1
SHUBSHRI KANDIAH CINDERELLA
MO LOVEGROVE LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD
AVA MADON CINDERELLA ALTERNATE
ANNE-MAREE MCDONALD STEPMOTHER & PIANO 2
MARNEY MCQUEEN THE VOICE OF CINDERELLA’S MOTHER
PAMELA RABE THE VOICE OF GIANT
JUSTIN SMITH BAKER
WILLIAM ZAPPA MYSTERIOUS MAN, NARRATOR & CINDERELLA’S FATHER ALTERNATE
STEFANIE CACCAMO BAKERS WIFE, WITCH, JACK’S MOTHER
ANDREW COSHAN CINDERELLA’S PRINCE & WOLF
DAVID GARDOS PIANO
MARNEY MCQUEEN STEPMOTHER
DAMON WADE PIANO
AVA MADON LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, CINDERELLA, RAPUNZEL, FLORINDA & GRANNY
ROB MALLETT BAKER, JACK, STEWARD, RAPUNZEL’S PRINCE & LUCINDA
STEPHEN SONDHEIM MUSIC AND LYRICS
JAMES LAPINE BOOK
EAMON FLACK DIRECTOR
GUY SIMPSON ORCHESTRATIONS & MUSICAL SUPERVISOR
SIMON HOLT MUSIC DIRECTOR
SALLY DASHWOOD CHOREOGRAPHER
MICHAEL HANKIN SET DESIGNER*
MICKA AGOSTA COSTUME DESIGNER*
DAMIEN COOPER LIGHTING DESIGNER
DAVID BERGMAN SOUND DESIGNER
LAURA FARRELL VOCAL COACH
NIGEL POULTON INTIMACY & FIGHT DIRECTOR
TIM DASHWOOD ASSOCIATE FIGHT DIRECTOR
JASMINE RIZK LIGHTING ASSOCIATE
CARISSA LICCIARDELLO ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
STEVIE BRYANT OBSERVING DIRECTOR
SALLY WITHNELL PRODUCTION MANAGER
ELLA GRIFFIN STAGE MANAGER
NATHAN SANDY ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER
CLAIRE MILLER ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER
INDIA LIVELY NIDA STAGE MANAGEMENT SECONDMENT
LISA CAMPBELL CONSULTING PRODUCER (HAYES)
MICHELLE GUTHRIE CONSULTING PRODUCER (HAYES)
EMILY DAVID PRODUCER
ZAINAB SYED PRODUCER
KEERTHI SUBRAMANYAM PROPS SUPERVISOR
BELINDA CRAWFORD COSTUME SUPERVISOR
GAYDA DE MESA FOH TECHNICIAN
JOEL TROTTER SYSTEMS ENGINEER
MATTHEW JAMES MICROPHONE TECHNICIAN
*MICHAEL HANKIN AND MICKA AGOSTA HAVE CO-DESIGNED THREE COSTUME-PROPS: THE HORSE, RAPUNZEL’S TOWER AND THE WOLF DISGUISED AS GRANNY.