BWW Review: INTO THE WOODS at La Clef Des Champs

Four years after treating us to a superb intimate production of Sweeney Todd, La Clef Des Champs is now tackling another Sondheim classic, Into the Woods, with the same talented director Olivier Benezech, giving us a definitely contemporary take on the immortal piece.

Brain child of Stephen Sondheim and his librettist James Lapine, who set out to mix four fairy tales all taking place in the woods (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel) and loosely inspired by Bruno Bettelheim's essays, this modern version aptly starts on a psychoanalyst's coach.

The storyteller, brilliantly played by the excellent Scott Emerson, jumping with ease between five different parts and two languages, confronts each character with their own urges as expressed in dreams until they ultimately kill him in the second act! This is only one of the inventive twists of Benezech: having the two ugly sisters played in drag by the two brilliant actors Sinan Bertrand and Bastien Jacquemart, who also play the princes to Cinderella and Rapunzel, brings a lot of laughs from the audience, adding a touch of burlesque to the first act and enhancing its contrast with the much darker second act.

The rest of the cast is equally perfect: Dalia Constantin fresh, from The Addam's Family at The Palace and Wonderful Town at the Opéra de Toulon, is a consummate actress and singer, fitting like a glove into Cinderella's shoes! Gregory Garell has the right youthful charm and innocence to play Jack, and the seasoned West End and Paris leading man Jérôme Pradon (Miss Saïgon,Martin Guerre, Lord of the Rings, Nine, Mama Mia!) makes for a strong yet vulnerable Baker, especially moving in his rendition of "No More". As Mrs Baker, Châtelet regular Jasmine Roy, direct from playing Ruth Sherwood in Wonderful Town in Toulon, has the right chemistry with him, and Charlotte Ruby, a revelation in La Poupée Sanglante last season, is equally excellent as Rapunzel and Red Riding Hood, especially in her duet with Sinan Bertrand's hilarious Wolf, "Hello Little Girl", impeccably choreographed by Johan Nus.

Returning to the Castle of Hardelot after her brilliant portrayal of Mrs Lovett in Sondheim's other masterpiece, multi-talented Alyssa Landry is, as expected, pure joy as the witch, utterly threatening in "The Last Midnight" and heartbreakingly moving in "Stay with Me". She recently wrote the musical review Bon Baisé de Broadway, in which Dalia Constantin stared as well, for La Clef Des Champs.

We can never praise this team enough for their artistic choices in the development of musical theatre in the north of France. The imaginative set design of Gregory Leteneur, clever costumes by Frédéric Olivier and climatic lightning by Jean-Baptist Cousin also contribute to the magic of this brand new, French-subtitled English-language version of Into the Woods. But none of it could have happened without the immense talent and passion of musical director Samuel Sené and his perfectly drilled nine-piece band.

Perhaps a bit more dialogue in French would help general audiences in understanding such a rich and complex work, but this innovative Into the Woods is not to be missed when transferred to Opéra de Reims on November 17, followed by the Opéra de Massy near Paris on January 19 and 20, finishing the mini-tour at the Théâtre Croix Rousse in Lyon March 19 and 23.

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From This Author Patrick Honoré

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