Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sondheim's fairy-tale musical casts a truly bewitching spell

  • Print

The woods have been crowded lately with fairy-tale re-imaginings, both on television (see Once Upon a Time and Grimm), and at the movies (Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror).

The fairest of them all remains the enchanting Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (book) 1987 musical Into the Woods, presented with clarity and verve by the dependable Distinct Theatre Collective.

A mash-up of familiar characters -- Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack of beanstalk fame -- reminds audiences that wishes come true, not free. These literary icons become flesh-and-blood people with real problems, not the Disney kind.

In Sondheim's and Lapine's neck of the woods, we find a baker and his wife, stand-ins for any contemporary couple, who have been cursed with infertility by a witch. To remove the spell they must enter the woods and bring the witch a white cow, a red cape, a golden slipper and yellow hair.

Director Connie Manfredi recognizes the impossible challenge Into the Woods present -- what with giants, beanstalks, towers and a people-eating wolf -- and opts to go low-tech, a choice best exemplified by a white box on casters representing the cow.

More crucial is her choice to present the story through the eyes of a 10-year-old child as narrator, a role traditionally played by an adult. He tells the story, sometimes sitting cross-legged on the stage in rapt attention as it plays out and occasionally grabbing a prop from the shelves lining the back of the wide open Gas Station Theatre stage to aid the action.

The presence of a child onstage creates a more pronounced sense of wonder to a story about parenting, growing up, loss and longing. Beautifully crafted songs like the haunting Children Listen, No More and No One is Alone will move anyone who's ever had a child, or been one.

The characters find their version of happiness in the first act, as the baker and his wife are successful in their quest and become parents. Cinderella gets her prince and Jack his golden harp and everyone seems destined to live happily ever after as the curtain comes down.

The feeling only lasts through the intermission, however, because when the characters return we discover their answered prayers are not what they're cracked up to be.

The woods are crawling with colourful portrayals and rich performances. As Cinderella, Julie Lumsden displays a beautiful voice while evolving from wide-eyed girl to open-eyed woman. Haley Vincent plays the scooter-riding Red with spunk and a fetching self-awareness about the urges the wolf's attentions have stirred in her. And who can blame Red, what with Sam Plett's lascivious but letter-perfect turn as the wolf, whose body language, even without his pelvic thrusts, reveals his evil intentions.

Plett does double duty with Darren Martens as the charmless prince brothers, dressed identically except for colour of their bow ties to suggest all princes are the same. Their signature song, Agony, in which they vent their frustrations, is a highlight of the night. Laura Olafson is drily sarcastic and nasty in her cronewear but once a spell is lifted, she becomes a ravishing Witch who heats up the stage, complaining about having her rutabagas rooted through.

As the baker's wife, Aubree Erickson is outstanding, convincing as a desperate would-be mother who risk everything for a tryst with a pompous prince who promptly dismisses the encounter as what-happens-in-the-woods-stays-in-the-woods. The cow-loving Jack is played sweetly by Nelson Bettencourt, while narrator Mackenzie Wojcik charms but sometimes has trouble making himself heard.

With a vengeful giant's wife inflicting painful loss after loss late into the 165-minute musical, the members of the surviving quartet learn the importance of community and lessons about themselves. They have been to the woods, and come out wiser, not destroyed.

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Theatre review

Into the Woods

District Theatre Collective

To Saturday, at Gas Station Theatre

Tickets: $23.99

Four stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2013 D6

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Tree remover has special connection to Grandma Elm

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Winnipeg’s best friend the dragon fly takes a break at English Gardens in Assiniboine Park Wednesday- A dragon fly can eat  food equal to its own weight in 30 minutes-Standup photo- June 13, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Jia Ping Lu practices tai chi in Assiniboine Park at the duck pond Thursday morning under the eye of a Canada goose  - See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge Day 13- May 17, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What's your take on a report that shows violent crime is decreasing in Winnipeg?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google