Apart from minor moments, Into The Woods proves wildly professional, with great comedic timing and a slew of talented voices.
Stephen Sondheim’s classic Into the Woods is perhaps one of the most beloved musicals of all time and is known for famously beating The Phantom of the Opera at the Tony Awards to Best Score, Best Book and Best Actress in a Musical, which was awarded to Joanna Gleason for her portrayal of the Baker’s Wife. Into the Woods remains a favourite today because of its outrageous comedy and catchy songs, but most of all its subverting of the fairytale genre proved by Disney’s recent adaptation to film.
With such a cult following, the film released to a mixed reviews – but what no one could argue was that the vocal talent was astounding, and now Meryl Streep will always be remembered for her portrayal as the Witch. This meant that when going to see SUSU Showstoppers’ adaptation I certainly didn’t expect much – but thankfully I was pleasantly surprised and blown away by not only the talent but the professionalism.
The opening prologue always allows you to see what kind of performance you’ll be graced with and the directors were able to easily create a hustling, bustling village, yet make sure every character gained focus where appropriate. Harmonies were perfect and the lead vocals as strong as ever, with Emma Bryant as Cinderella displaying an effortless flair for the vocal highs and lows her part contains. Though at first Jack’s Mother (Cerys Beesley) seemed to perform self-consciously, she soon blossomed into the role comfortably.
The production continued in this effortless manner throughout the first act – though a few minor breathing control problems arose within bigger numbers such as ‘Giants in the Sky’ and ‘I Know things Now.’ The actors, however, in their respective roles, Ieuan Harrild as Jack and Ellie-Rose Fowler as Little Red, created a believable innocence for these younger roles and provided comedic relief from upsetting scenes. Both actors deserve commendation for taking on songs that are traditionally in extremely high keys and managing to deliver for the most part.
With such a large cast it’s easy usually to poke holes – though here I seem unable to. Cinderella’s family provided a fantastically wicked performance with Jessica Hector as the Evil Stepmother and Dan Wills as Florinda shining particularly. Audience favourites, the Princes (Robin Johnson and Andy Banks) performed ‘Agony’ to perfection and provided laughs at every turn, even when entering/exiting in a Python-esque style. Rapunzel (Katie Passey), though having few lines performed her signature song to an effortless tee and was always on point.
During the first act the show-stealer was certainly the Baker’s Wife (Robyn Fryer) who flowed through songs seamlessly, battling from belting out earnest pleas to vulnerable whispers, managed to capture hearts while provide great laughs with perfect comedic timing. Even the Narrator (Jamie Martin) could not rival her brand of sarcastic wit.
However, when tragedy strikes and a giant starts roaming the kingdom in the second, half focus soon switched. The Witch (Lydia Edge) seemed to almost clasp focus fully with her emotional and tense portrayal of loss throughout her lament and ‘Last Midnight’. Soon, however, the Baker (Paddy Cahill) took over and didn’t leave the spotlight. An extremely emotional ‘No More’ allowed Paddy Cahill to demonstrate the true depth and strength of his voice providing a performance of a vulnerable and desperate man alongside an excellent Peter Bridgwood as his Father who was a sheer delight throughout the show.
The show was brought to an emotional climax throughout ‘No One is Alone’, with myself and many of the audience tearing up when the Wife and Witch return to talk from beyond the grave. The Baker and his Wife’s relationship throughout was both charming and heartwarming, and delivered tears when it drew to a final close. Jeremy McCabe at the Wolf/Milky White and Fiona McDowell as Cinderella’s Mother/Granny/The Giant deserve special mentions for providing well-crafted talent within so many diverse roles which both had the audience in stitches.
The orchestra, costumes, lighting and set design helped to build a well-rounded atmosphere yet always allowed the cast to shine through at its heart. Into the Woods deserves every bit of high praise it gets and thankfully I can say without a bit of doubt that SUSU Showstoppers would have made Sondheim proud. The production is almost perfectly polished, and for me outdid a West End production I had seen the day before.
Into the Woods can be seen at the Annex Theatre until Saturday at 7:30pm.