BWW Review: RELASI NADA DUNIA's Debut INTO THE WOODS JR. Hits Big
Stephen Sondheim's musical INTO THE WOODS JR. came to USMAR ISMAIL HALL, Jakarta, on August 25th, 2019. This production by RELASI NADA DUNIA (RND) featured child and teen musical actors from the greater Jakarta area in a fun fairy tale mishmash that rivals productions with adult performers.
INTO THE WOODS JR. is based on 1986's INTO THE WOODS (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine) with several adjustments in both narrative and music meant to be more accessible for school productions.
RND's production is directed by Venantius Vladimir Ivan, with Ivan Tangkulung as music director (reprising his role in TEMAN's INTO THE WOODS), and Pricillya Carlla doing double duty as both the producer and one of the vocal instructors alongside Michael Mathindas, James Karinda, Sahma Sipayung, Claudia Pricilia, and Epoy.
The main premise remains the same as INTO THE WOODS: a childless baker and his wife are visited by a witch who told the couple of the curse she'd placed on them - the curse of a childless life. To lift the curse, they must bring her four magical items found in the woods near their house. As the couple journeys to find the items, their path intertwines with characters from classic fairytales, including Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack and the Beanstalk.
There are two sets of cast, one for each show (Show 1 and 2), though with some cast members playing in both; this review is of the first show with photos coming from both shows.
INTO THE WOODS JR. itself ran for about one hour. However, this production had both opening and ending acts consisting of show choir-style arrangements of several popular show tunes. The song list includes 'When I Grow Up', 'A Whole New World', and 'Let It Go'. The stage was filled with adolescent performers singing with a precocious adorableness, decked in both matching outfits and movements to amplify their charm.
As the opening song ('Prologue: Into the Woods') starts, we are introduced to the ensemble cast. Despite varying considerably in age (from grade school-age children to older teens), each cast chosen had a promising quality to them and played off each other well.
Most notably, nearly all performers had wonderfully trained voices. All of them had vocal training background and several had won vocal competitions. Though not at the level of fully professional performers yet, they were at a higher level above the average children musical show.
Emanuel Bryan's take on The Baker is highly animated and expressive; his movements, much like his expressions, are big. This cartoonish interpretation was a lot to take at first but definitely left an entertaining impression.
Bryan's Baker also created a delightful contrast with the Baker's Wife (as played by Jesslyn Felita). In all rendition, the Baker's Wife plays the dependable and no-nonsense counterpart to the Baker. Despite her younger age, Jesslyn accomplished her role unquestionably well. She also carried with her a luster that resonated with the Baker's sprightly energy, making the couple a good fit for each other.
The role of Little Red is played by the ten-year-old Naomi Hope Makmuri. Her similar age lend a certain credence to the role, especially in her comedic aloofness. The Wolf was played by Bryan Edward (who also played Cinderella's Prince, per tradition) with terrifying efficiency; his turn was brimming with a dark sadism that felt like it came from another production altogether.
Jack is played by Dylan Suwarno, whose downtrodden moments were especially heart-wrenching. Jack's Mother is played by Dylan's sister, Nadya Suwarno; her acting prowess was already evident, especially in the interactions between her character and Dylan's - the exasperation was palpable.
The role of the cow Milky White goes to Groovie Gribaldo Saputro in white overalls and cow ears. Having a boy playing the poor cow was a stroke of genius; audience couldn't resist cooing at him every time he appeared. Though hopefully the costume had knee pads, for walking on fours back and forth with his small strides looked tiring.
Stepping into Cinderella's slippers was Lil'li Latisha; she was one of the 13 alumni of INDONESIA MENUJU BROADWAY's first batch. As expected, she carried the role with ease and grace, with a particularly strong rendition of 'On the Steps of the Palace'.
However, even among the cast of greats, one stand-out performer was Maria Prawita Dasarati as the Witch. She had impeccable, larger-than-life, gestures that brought her role to life. The 14-year-old actress also seemed to bask in her role thoroughly, cackling gleefully. The dramatic turn near the end of the show was similarly effective, in which she pleaded with Rapunzel (Josephyne Felice Kusnadi) not to leave her.
The other actors and actresses were also satisfactory in their roles. Show 1's cast includes Fabiandra Andries (Rapunzel's Prince), Brigita Michella Audrey (Cinderella's Stepmother), Keandra Sophia Ramoh (Florinda), Cynthia Nicole Bollweg (Lucinda), Windy Fajriah Fitri (Cinderella's Mother), Alegra Lakeisha (Grandmother), Oliver Naufal Pribadi (Steward), Ganang Sadewa (Mysterious Man), Narrator 1 (Callista Almahyra Indrawardhana) and Narrator 2 (Chloe Ann Bollweg).
It has to be noted, however, that Sondheim's lyrics and music still provide quite the challenge for these young actors; though they perform admirably, the trickier turns of phrase come off unclear. And although the main cast have acceptable-to-outstanding diction, the supporting cast are more
The live music accompaniment was on-point and greatly elevated the show to higher heights. Indeed the show's sound engineering was much better than other Indonesian musical theatre performances, with great volume balancing making for consistently crisp sound. Unfortunately, the lighting design is not quite as strong; the lights often missed their spot or timing and often cast shadows on the cast's faces.
The costume design is functional and appropriate enough, though they looked rented rather than custom-designed. The set is likewise decent, though its handcrafted look can feel quite bizarre compared to the lush and extravagant decor at the hall area before the venue.
Overall, INTO THE WOODS JR. is an astonishingly competent first offering from RELASI NADA DUNIA and can stand on its own even against adult musical productions. With great performers already in tow, RND will hopefully round off its future shows with improved production design for a truly professional-level performance.
Photos: Relasi Nada Dunia.