Only knowing a vague plot, with a forgotten film somewhere buried in my mind, I was curious to see how a melange of fairytales ties in with the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group's fall musical, or otherwise called November show. With a cast of no less than seventeen members, not including the twelve musicians with Richard Blaquière as their Musical Director, the directing team had a daunting task ahead of them.
The 1986 original musical by the same time, was a collaborative work by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and James Lapine (story). The work can be seen as a compromise - Sondheim wanted to write a 'quest' musical whereas Lapine had the desire to write a fairytale. The result ends up being a mashup of the plots of several Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault fairy tales, which through their intertwined explore the consequances of the characters' wishes and quests. It is this interesting layer of dynamic between what is the right thing to do, deconstructing the classical fairytale endings and looking further than the original finale of the tales, where the musical's magic really lies.
Our main characters are formed through the baker (Rob Merriam) and his wife (Julia Weingaertner) who desperately want a son. Their neighbouring witch (Lori Flannigan) tasks them with the retrieval of four items, which brings our loving (sometimes fighting) couple to a young and innocent Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk (Gordon Stackhouse), a naive Cinderella (Jess Butcher), a sassy Little Red Ridinghood (Maya Sargent) and a rebellious but lonely Rapunzel (Livi Wollaston). As any good fairytale, we have Rory McKeon as narrator, since "there always has to be one left to tell the tale". With his beautifully crafted cut out books, mingling in the storyline and sometimes even holding up the story temporarily (to the annoyance of the other characters), he guides the audience in a humurous way into the realm of the fairytale.
The amazing singing talents of in particular Julia Weingaertner (the baker's wife) and Livi Wollaston (Rapunzel), together with an absolutely stunning performance of Lori Flannigan (the Witch), who frankly still scares me, turn the average student show into a Broadway worthy musical. The humurous and modern exchanges, together with a great costume design turn this humble reproduction of the wellknown and -loved 1986 musical into a cherished modernised experience. From Mr. Charming (Ewan Bruce) and Mr. Handsome (Rory Bayliss-Chalmers) - according to their saches - attempt to step in each others' spotlight and ridiculise the traditional conduct and gait of the 'Prince', to the Witch's (Lori Flannigan) humanization and tender and emotional "Witch's Lament" (Children can only grow, from something you love to something you lose), Into the Woods makes us reconsider the traditional roles we have forced our fairytale characters in. With the tale and songs still echoing through my mind and in the Pleasance Theatre for three days to come, if I cannot encourage you enough to go maybe they will: "Into the Woods [...] I know [you] have to take the journey!".
Into the Woods runs at the Pleasance Theatre until 23 November 2019.