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Justin Smith explores Sondheim and Whitlam

Justin Smith takes us into the woods in a one on one discussion of all things Stephen Sondheim and Gough Whitlam.

Justin Smith is an Australian actor, best known for his AFI nominated performance as barrister 'Josh Bornstein' in the ABC mini-series Bastard Boys. He is also known in Australia for his TV, film, theatre and television commercial work. His next role will be as The Baker in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods at Belvoir St Theatre.

In the thirty-five years since its premiere, Into the Woods has become a classic – brilliantly original, dark, funny, absorbing and utterly entertaining.

It begins, of course, with “Once upon a time…” By the end of the opening number not one but six fairytale plots have intertwined, as Cinderella, the Baker and his Wife, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack of beanstalk fame all head into the woods in search of love, happiness, wisdom. Three midnights of brilliant plot twists later they all end up singing “Happy ever after”. Except this is only the interval…

We all want our wishes fulfilled, but are we prepared to pay the price?

Into the Woods is a Sondheim classic, where do you think its magical quality lies?

It uses fairytale and the magical to explore humanity. As the characters go after their wish they find lessons in the shades of grey around the simple fairytale morals - the realities of life. The music is intricate and clever, but at the same time is very accessible. Sondheim is so clever at revealing the characters' journeys, wants and needs through music and into the audiences‘ subconscious and hearts and minds. James Lapine’s sort of stripped back script allows the wonderful songs to shine through whilst also being hilarious and poignant.

Can you give us some insight into your character you’re playing?

The Baker is the “Everyman” in amongst the fairytale characters. His and his wife’s wish is to have a child. For Sondheim and Lapine he and the Wife are the audience’s “in” to the magical world. As the characters deal with what happens once they have their wish, the story becomes more human and real.

How have Belvoir St adapted the large story into their theatre?

The approach the creative team is taking is very exciting. I don’t want to ruin any surprises, but with a combination of old fashion stage craft and allowing the audience to really engage their imaginations, we have a fabulously original Into The Woods to show people. And there are lots of different hats and a huge number of quick changes!

What has it been like working with this large, talented cast?

The story of Into The Woods is ultimately about community and the cast and crew have really embodied that over the past five weeks. We’ve got each others backs and that can only help with telling this great story.

Have there been any unique rehearsal stories in preparation for the production?

Not really, but I will say - just because you can’t see the percussionists doesn’t mean there aren’t a group of frantic cast off stage providing wonderful support for our on stage musicians.

You're also playing Gough Whitlam in The Dismissal, how are you going to approach that role?

I’ve got enough to think about at the moment... but I’ll approach it basically with as much of the grace and intellect of the man himself.

The Dismissal is a brand new is musical comedy, what relevance does it hold in today's political climate?

More things change the more they stay the same. But just as community is the main theme of Into The Woods the Whitlam government had a majestic vision for a fair and socially equitable Australia. How’s that going?


Into the Woods plays at Belvoir St Theatre from 18 MAR – 23 APR 23.

The Dismissal plays at Seymour Centre from 26 AUG 2023 onwards.

Tickets can be booked at


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