Featuring a cast of nearly twenty actors, Into The Woods, directed by Jeremy Hutton is a fairy tale menagerie and musical in which a series of familiar faces — Cinderella, Jack (of beanstalk fame), Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, a witch, a couple of princes, a baker and his wife — find themselves in the woods, their classical stories overlapping as they each pursue their wishes.
Cinderella wishes to go to “the festival,” but is forbidden by her evil stepmother and stepsisters from going; the baker and his wife, the characters that drive the action of the story, wish to have a child, but first they’ll have to ‘reverse the curse’ that the witch has placed on them. To do this they journey into the woods and collect some of the most iconic items of fairy tale lore, including a golden egg and Little Red Riding Hood’s cape.
The first act of Into The Woods is rather benign. Everything is running smoothly, and all the characters have their wishes fulfilled. It’s what happens in the second act that truly defines the production. Suddenly, the comforting, generic world of fairy tales crumbles, and the characters begin to appreciate the repercussions of their actions — consequences that are often ignored in typical fairy tales. The characters are forced to band together or fall apart and must learn how to live and define themselves in a world more real than that of the first act.
Hart House’s performance is well executed. The audience will find the large cast refreshingly entertaining, especially in a smaller venue. The most memorable parts of the production are those featuring most or the entire cast, as they are uniquely choreographed on stage and feed off of each other’s energy.
There are parts, however, that seem rather forced, and with a cast so large, it is perhaps unsurprising that some actors are stronger than others, particularly when they must command the stage alone, or with only a few other actors to back them up. It is during times like these that delivery of dialogue becomes trying, and is only relieved with the start of another musical number.
Michelle Nash and Saphire Demitro, playing Cinderella and the witch respectively, both give strong performances, embodying their characters in a convincing and well-constructed manner. The entire cast have considerable singing abilities, and the score is generally well performed.
Most notable is the set itself, which almost takes on a character of its own throughout the performance. The set features a collection of clocks and moving parts that embody the idea of automation driving the first half of the production. When the story takes a turn in the second half, the set is again put to good use — the clocks crumbling and crashing, symbolizing the disintegration of the comforting fairy tale world.
The explicit dichotomy between the world of ‘happy-ever-afters’ and the ‘real’ world is a point well understood by Hutton. Into The Woods is a production that, much like the fairy tales it encompasses, appears innocuous on the outside, but contains, as Hutton writes, “a depth of complexity and thoughtfulness that is utterly compelling, and worth exploring time and time again.”
Into The Woods runs at Hart House Theatre between Jan. 15-30