Review: INTO THE WOODS, in Barrie, Ont.

by Lynn on November 17, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Georgian Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

Book by James Lapine

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Directed by Michael Torontow

Musical director, Wayne Gwillim

Choreographer, Lori Watson

Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Cast: Aidan deSalaiz

Griffin Hewitt

Alana Hibbert

Richard Lam

Jamie McRoberts

Charlotte Moore

Justin Stadnyk

Amy Swift

Kristian Truelsen

Kimberly-Ann Truong

Plus a young company of eager actors.

This production of Into the Woods is billed as a concert that is ‘slightly staged.’ That doesn’t come close to describing the miraculous production director Michael Torontow has created with his gifted creative team and his cast of accomplished pros and up and coming student young performers.

Stephen Sondheim’s complex story of searching for happiness through fairy tales, original story-telling and song follows several characters as they wish for: a child, finding a one true love, or at least one that bides ones time until the next one, Jack wants to keep his beloved pet cow Milky White, hoping for riches, wanting to protect a child too much, freedom and happily ever after. In true Sondheim fashion he gives the characters a happy ending by the end of Act I. Then they have to face the realities of life in Act II and sometimes happiness is not an option. Acceptance is.

A Baker and his Wife long for a child but they find out that the Witch next door put a curse on them because the Baker’s father took some magic beans from the Witch’s garden years before. The Witch will “reverse the curse” (a Sondheim lyric to lift your hat to) if they gather some items, one of which is a cloak as red as blood that belongs to Little Red. There are dashing princes who are more charming than sincere; Cinderella who is not all that keen on going off with a prince; the prickly relationship with the Witch and her daughter; and the interweaving of familiar fairy tales with original stories.

Sondheim’s songs and music are intricate and dazzlingly clever—at times I think too clever and perhaps songs go on too long. This cast of musical comedy pros handle them with aplomb: Aidan deSalaiz is an anxious, emotional Baker and plays him beautifully; Jamie McRoberts plays the Baker’s Wife with devotion and commitment and sings like a dream; Alana Hibbert is the impatient Witch who also over-protects her daughter Rapunzel; Griffin Hewitt is elegantly courtly if a bit wayward as Cinderella’s Prince among others; Richard Lam is Rapunzel’s Prince and Jack’s sickly cow, Milky White, among others; Charlotte Moore is the haughty step-mother to Cinderella and with a change of hat, Jack’s harried mother; Jason Stadnyk is a dim-witted but loving Jack and an arrogant Steward; Kimmy Truong is a perky, confident Cinderella, Amy Swift plays Little Red with sass and Rapunzel with anxiety from being locked up alone; and Kristian Truelsen plays the Narrator and a Mysterious Man. Every single one of them sings beautifully.

But the star for me is director Michael Torontow. This is his first professional directing gig. Arkady Spivak, Talk is Free Artistic Producer has cast Michael Torontow in many of TIFT shows as a singing actor or an actor who sings. Spivak has an eye for talent and knows when to move people to the next challenge. In Michael Torontow’s case it was directing. Spivak does not drop his talent in the deep end and hopes they will swim. He knows they can swim, He gives them challenges that scare them and they overcome them. In the case of Torontow he rose to the challenge and set the bar high for others.

Torontow stages his large cast with economy and efficiency. Scenes are clear and not muddy. Joe Pagnan’s set is simple with the band up and almost out of sight. A large tree that looks like it’s chopped in odd bits closer to the ground is upstage. Little stools dot the upstage area where the cast will sit with their backs to the audience  when they aren’t in a scene. That is masterful. The cast is ‘invisible’ when they are not in a scene so we are not distracted by watching them. There are such cheeky directorial touches: Milky White has a cowbell (silent) around her neck-voila a cow; Cinderella’s mean step-sisters (Griffin Hewitt and Richard Lam) stand side by side holding a curtain rod in front of them with two different coloured curtains cinched in the middle that suggests they are wearing dresses with the waist cinched in; the cast of young student actors act as stage hands that efficiently bring props on and off. Torontow has a clear vision of how to  tell the story with so much happening on stage; he has a sense of the visual picture that is beautifully conveyed. I love his work as an actor. Now I look forward to more as a director. It was a very short run of only four performances. So glad I saw this.

Talk is Free Theatre presented this:

Nov. 14-16, 2019.

www.tift.ca

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