The West Australia Opera’s latest production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods is a fairytale-blending cautionary tale, seeing characters grapple with the consequences of what they wish for.
A good musical will take the audience away from the theatre and transport them to a different magical realm and there is no better example of this than Into the Woods. The ability to be moved to another universe relies on the audience’s comprehension of the world and magic being presented which is achieved in this production through clever, consistent and enthralling storytelling.
The show is separated into two very different acts. Act one sees all the characters pursuing, and eventually achieving, their own wants and desires. The second act however looks past the ‘happily ever after’ and focuses on sudden loss and consequence; a parable for the AIDS epidemic and perhaps now for a post covid world.
Prudence Sanders as Rapunzel and Maria Meredes as the Witch. Photo by West Beach Studio
The cast is incredible and polished from top to bottom. It’s a joy to see recent WAAPA graduates Matt Hourigan and Brittany Carter making their professional debut as Jack and Sleeping Beauty respectively. Lachlann Lawton and Joshua Firman play a fantastic duo of princes, Claire Lyon’s Cinderella is captivating and Sophia Wasley’s Little Red Ridinghood is both endearing and unnerving.
As Baker’s Wife, Samantha Clarke is perhaps the vocal standout of the group, but it is Peter Coleman-Wright as the Narrator and Maria Mercedes as the Witch who are the backbone of this production. Yet even the mostly inanimate puppet of Milky White, the cow, is charming.
Joshua Firman and Lachlann Lawton. Photo by West Beach Studio.
From the outset, as we sit waiting for the show to start, Niall McKeever’s set combined with sound effects designer Russell Goldsmith’s chirping bird soundscape is enthralling and ominous.
Director Cameron Menzies deftly weaves the spectacular visual and sound design elements together to lure us into this colourful world where the story’s dark comedy is precise and well-timed. Energy pours from every facet of production.
For me the first act outshines the second. This is a result of all the long songs stacked at the end. For a show that has a run time of two and a half hours, the change of pace from the extremely fast first act would preferably be reversed with the second. However, it is key to the message of the show to have a more sombre second half, it’s a difficult balancing act.
The effect of The Giant is also a tricky one to pull off convincingly – and even trickier the more we see it as an audience (I won’t spoil how they pull it off). These slight drawbacks I feel are the fault of Sondheim and Lapine, who leave it to the actors to draw us back in.
WAO’s Into the Woods is lavish and impressive, with confidence drawn from its incredible cast and sure direction. Most of all it succeeds in providing the fun which is essential for a memorable journey into the woods…
Into the Woods is on now at His Majesty’s Theatre until April 1.