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BWW Review: INTO THE WOODS at Meat Market

The vocal strength of this cast made me wish for a cast recording… they were that good!

BWW Review: INTO THE WOODS at Meat Market
Fiona Choi, James Millar and Cherine Peck
Photography by Jodi Hutchinson

If you have not heard of Australia's only Sondheim repertoire company Watch This, then make sure to 'watch out' for their next stellar Sondheim production... you will not be disappointed! Recently I was lucky enough to attend their production of the great Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, which was vocally sublime and featured a refreshingly diverse range of performers. While Sondheim passed away late last year at the age of 91, Into the Woods proves his timeless lyrics and music will live on for an eternity.

Into the Woods weaves the plots of the well-known Brothers Grimm fairy tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel into one narrative, along with the addition of other characters, including the Baker and the Baker's Wife. While things begin as per the traditional storybook narratives, they certainly do not end up that way. The turmoil and uncharted terrain that the characters find themselves thrust into is something that not only Melbournians can currently relate to, but also the whole world!

When it premiered on Broadway in 1987 it was nominated for ten Tony Awards, but won only three, perhaps due to a certain 'Phantom' dominating that year. The wins included Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical. This comes as no surprise given Sondheim's genius lyrics and Lapine's crafty book, both of which portray the timeless message, that things are not always what they seem. The evil witch can be a loving mother, prince charming is not always faithful, and an angry giant may be a grieving widow. Sondheim and Lapine's writing extends Into the Woods' characters far beyond fairy-tale archetypes, were everyone lives happily ever after, and instead, shoves them into the chaos of everyday life, where things do not always go according to plan.

Watch This' intimate and boutique production of Into the Woods had strong direction by Sonya Suares and Melanie Hillman, with the concept of this production being based around the idea that a troupe of actors stumble across an old, abandoned theatre which mother nature has begun reclaiming. This concept tied nicely into the underlying themes of the musical and given how many times this production has had to be postponed, because of the pandemic, seemed most fitting. The rustic, heritage listed Meat Market in North Melbourne was a perfect fit as a venue and was brought to life well by Sarah Tulloch's set and Rob Sowinski's lighting.

Trevor Jones and Ned Wright-Smith's musical direction allowed Sondheim's score to soar as the highlight of the evening. This was well supported by Marcello Lo Ricco and Steve Cooke's sound design, which ensured the orchestral tones were well balanced with the onstage performer vocals.

The vocal strength of this cast made me wish for a cast recording... they were that good! They also had excellent articulation, something that is not always easily achieved, given the difficulty and pace of Sondheim's lyrics. Cherine Peck as the Witch excelled in this, delivering a powerhouse performance, as did Anthony Craig who was sincere and believable as Jack in his strong performance of "Giants in the Sky".

Nick Simpson-Deeks as the Wolf and Cinderella's Prince was highly entertaining and when he was joined by Raphael Wong as Rapunzel's Prince, in the comedic duet "Agony", not only did both achieve hilarity, but also vocal perfection. Caitlin Spears' vocal tone as Rapunzel were simply sublime and Jacqui Hoy as Jack's Mother made a supporting role really shine. James Millar's heartfelt performance as The Baker featured a poignant and soul-stirring father-son duet with John O'May in Act Two, which brought a tear to the eye.

However, my favourite part of the evening was the opportunity to watch such a diverse range of performers bring the characters of Into the Woods to life. Watch This really is an Australian leader in performer diversity and is something they should be very proud of.

While Into The Woods' Melbourne season has now finished, make sure to keep an eye out for more Sondheim production being produced by Watch This, they are sure to delight! More information can be found at watchthis.net.au

BWW Review: INTO THE WOODS at Meat Market
Nick Simpson-Deeks
Photography by Jodi Hutchinson


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