Revised Comment: INTO THE WOODS, in the woods, in Barrie, Ont.

by Lynn on August 23, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live, in person, in Springwater Provincial Park, Barrie, Ont. This short run closed but will be remounted Oct. 28-30, 2021 at the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto.

A wise, wonderful friend of mine who knows everything about the theatre has gently, kindly told me of a point in my comment on Into the Woods that needs correcting. I was mortified when he told me what it is and totally agree. While I noted in the credits at the top that James Lapine wrote the book of the show, in the body of the comments it’s always Stephen Sondheim that I credit for any cleverness in the story, book etc. I will correct it now. James Lapine came up with the idea of Into the Woods, wrote the book of the show and should of course be credited throughout the comments.

Book by James Lapine

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Directed by Michael Torontow

Music director, Wayne Gwillim

Choreography by David Andrew Reid

Set and lighting by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Laura Delchiaro

Sound by Matt Dawson

Cast: Noah Beemer

Tess Benger

Aidan deSalaiz

Griffin Hewitt

Derek Kwan

Richard Lam

Jamie McRoberts

Tracy Michailidis

Glynis Ranney

Kelsey Verzotti

Young company: Brennan Bielefeld

Brooklyn Chenard

Griffin Dauphinee

Jack Dimou

Owen Hinton

Matthew MacQuarrie-Cottle

Charlee Rochon


Music director/pianist, Wayne Gwillim

Piccolo, flute, clarinet, Dennis Kwok

Violin, Emily Hiemstra

Cello, Alyssa Wright

Percussion, Jamie Drake.

This is how I described the 2019 ‘slightly staged’ concert of Into the Woods directed by Michael Torontow for Talk is Free Theatre:

“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.”

Michael Torontow has upped the ante on that production with a recent very short run of the show with lots of new cast members, this time playing outdoors in a clearing in Springwater Provincial Park, surrounded by woods, in Barrie, Ont. Stunning.

And to make matters perfect the park is actually managed by the Beausoleil First Nations. Every single thing about this production is magical and exquisite.

James Lapine came up with the idea of taking several fairy tales: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Bean Stalk, Rapunzel, mixed them up and added a baker and his wife who longed for a child, a witch with anger issues and a penchant for throwing curses on people and all manner of other complications. In all cases the characters were searching for happiness. They all had individual wishes, but they really wanted to be happy. Lapine 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”  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.

No one can musicalize this rocky road to happiness better than Stephen Sondheim in his music and lyrics and he is blazing here. The collaboration with James Lapine is a match made in musical theatre heaven. Lapine has that ability to tell a quirky story with all the bumps and detours needed for his characters to realize that happiness might have always been there. His dialogue is pristine and brisk and simply creates the proper image and moment. Cinderella is disappointed in her wayward Prince and wonders what kind of King he would make if his flagrant behaviour is any indication. He replies: “I was raised to be charming not sincere.” Sondheim takes complex language and rhymes and adds to the depth of the characters. I must confess that at times Sondheim seems to have gone on too long with his cleverness–The witch’s itemizing of her greens comes to mind in Act I and the character’s recounting in “Your Fault” who’s fault it was that they were being threatened by a giant in Act II, are but two of many instances.

This cast of musical comedy pros—both returning and new artists in the cast–handle Sondheim’s intricate, dazzling lyrics and music. Aidan deSalaiz has grown in his performance of the Baker. He still plays him as anxious, but there is a maturity, a sensitivity that has blossomed; Jamie McRoberts plays the Baker’s Wife with a quiet wisdom and commitment and sings beautifully; Tracy Michailidis is terrific as the Witch. This is a nuanced, multi-layered, fearless performance; Griffin Hewitt is elegantly courtly, if a bit wayward, as Cinderella’s Prince, one of the self-absorbed wicked step-sisters and  others; Richard Lam is Rapunzel’s Prince, another smarmy step-sister and  Jack’s sickly cow, Milky White, among others; Glynis Ranney is the casually arrogant  step-mother to Cinderella and with a change of hat, Jack’s harried mother; Noah Beemer is a naïve but loving Jack and an arrogant Steward; Tess Benger is a charmer Cinderella who is her own person and sings beautifully; Kelsey Verzotti  plays Little Red with sass and feistiness and Rapunzel with anxiety from being locked up alone; and Derek Kwan plays the Narrator with a lovely courtliness and a Mysterious Man with disarming gruffness. Every single one of them sings beautifully.

But the star for me continues to be director Michael Torontow. When he first directed this in 2019 indoors in Barrie it was 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.

But directing outdoors in a wood just seemed to raise the ante. Torontow rose to the occasion effortlessly. His transitions between scenes and his entrances and exits of his actors are seamless. He 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. Little tree stumps 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. Wayne Gwillim conducts the terrific band excellently. It was a very short run of only four performances. So glad I saw this. Looking forward when it plays the Winter  Garden Theatre in Toronto in October 28-30, 2021.

Talk is Free Theatre presented this:

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.