The classic Sondheim fairy tale musical takes to the Hart House stage in Toronto
Tonight we went out into the cold, and into the ornate and cavernous Hart House Theatre to see the fun, fairytale-filled musical Into The Woods. It’s a comical mish-mash of various fairytales – Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstock, amongst others – imagining what might happen if the characters in those stories actually had their wishes come true.
Hart House‘s mounting of my favourite high school show was well worth journeying out on a cold winter’s night.
The story – based on the book by James Lapine, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim – was a cheeky, blended re-telling of some of the West’s most beloved fairytales, with the roots still intact.
It mostly centres around The Baker (James King), his wife (Amy Swift), and the Witch (Saphire Demitro). Baker and co. need a curse lifted, which they believe is preventing them from having a baby. The Witch, with her crotch-busting scepter, makes them a deal: find her a few very specific items – such as a “blood-red cape” and “a golden slipper” – and she will lift the curse!
And so begins the adventure with the cast of characters, the most memorable and delightful of which was Milky White (Maksym Shkvorets), Jack’s cow and best friend. The cow literally stole every scene she appeared in!
Act 1 consists mostly of great music, moral dilemmas, and a round of happy endings. It was hilarious, cute, a bit magical, and very fast-paced.
Act 2 tells the after-story, what happens to the characters after they get everything they want. Is Cinderella’s Prince really so charming? Surely being locked in a cell her entire life had some detrimental effects on Rapunzel? And what about all of Jack’s traipsing and thieving up at the top of that bean stock?
I’m not going tell you what happens, but if you like neat plot lines, fret not! All is revealed and resolved. While it was shorter, I did find Act 2 to drag on a bit more than Act 1.
For me, I enjoyed almost every aspect of this show. As is often the case, there wasn’t quite enough racial, body, and age diversity for me – though it was way more diverse than many shows I’ve seen. Hart House Theatre has done well in my mind for casting actors of various sizes, especially women – just not in leading roles. Yet.
My companion was a bit surprised by some of the casting choices, and felt that perhaps the vocal performance of lead James King (The Baker) could have been stronger. We were both incredibly impressed with Saphire Demitro’s performance as the Witch. I was blown away by her incredible singing and powerful stage presence.
The two Princes (Hugh Ritchie and Chiano Panth) played well off of each other. The were funny in singing one of my favourite songs, “Agony”, and also made quite an impression! I was also very pleased with The Wolf/Cinderella’s father (Korin Thomas-Smith), who I felt conveyed nuance and humour, even behind a wolf mask.
I also loved the Hart House Theatre. It’s cozy, yet not stiflingly warm; intimate yet somehow quite grand. As with Hamlet (which I also saw at Hart House Theatre), the space was fully utilized as some of the cast ventured out into the audience.
I found the stage area itself to be impressive. There were stairs, doors, levels, trees, a giant clock, and dramatic lighting. As my companion, fellow reviewer Dorianne said, “their staging game was on-point.”
In addition to mingling with audience, the large and very talented cast utilized the space very effectively. Aside from perhaps one misstep (and I’m not even certain it WAS one), I found their timing – musical, comedic, choreographic – to be excellent.
I feel like this show could be enjoyed by a wide variety of people of all ages. I’m not even a huge fan of musicals and I had a great time. Unless you’re a purist with a strong attachment to classic fairy tales, or someone who loathes musical theatre, it might be worth a trip out into the cold air to take a fun, magical trip Into The Woods.
- Into The Woods is playing until January 30 at Hart House Theatre (7 Hart House Circle)
- Please see website for showtimes
- Ticket prices range from $15 – $28, with $12 student tickets every Wednesday, and are available online, or through the box office at 416-978-8849
- This production uses a fog effect, and contains loud noises
Photo of Saphire Demitro and Alexandra Reed by Scott Gorman