Reviewed by Trish Francis
Directing a youth show is not for the faint hearted. Directing two versions of the show at the same time, with two different age groups, is something only the very brave would consider. When that show is Sondheim, the psychologists couch should be at the ready!!! Fiona DeLaine took on this mammoth task, and surfaced triumphant. Having directed a previous show for Adelaide Youth Theatre, DeLaine was at least aware of the exceptional level of talent in the emerging music theatre artists in Adelaide. This show is the perfect vehicle to showcase that talent.
Into the Woods intertwines the plots of several fairy tales, exploring the consequences of the characters' individual wishes. The main characters are taken from ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Cinderella’, and several others. The connecting theme involves a baker and his wife and their desire to start a family, focussing on their interaction with the famous storybook characters. To ensure we keep up with the sometimes confusing events, the story is narrated, in this case eloquently by Benji Riggs.
Director Fiona DeLaine and Musical Director Mark Delaine should be commended for a production that is nothing short of mind blowing. There are too many highlights to name and every performance was worthy of mention but space restricts me to select just a few.
The Baker, Harry Nguyen and his wife, Serena Martino Williams, are well matched in character and vocal quality. They complement each other beautifully as they relate to each other and the storybook characters they meet during their ‘Amazing Race’ style quest for ingredients. Leah Harford adds her delightful vocals and gentleness as Cinderella. Billie Turner, is consistently good as the sinister and cunning Witch, in both her ugly and beautiful personas, adding a vulnerability that gives great depth to her character.
Outstanding performances were also seen from the two ostentatious Princes, Connor Olsson-Jones and Luke Wolianskyj. Their obvious rapport only strengthened the comedic impact and having them ride off on their hobby horses emphasised the ridiculous to great effect. However, though both Princes were worthy, the comedic prize has to go to the cow!! Milky White, was played by a silent and hysterically funny Imala Konyn. A superb example of how a relatively small non speaking role can be so influential.
Jack, Joshua Spiniello, is a new face to this reviewer and has made a lasting impression with some fine acting. This young fella is definitely one to watch. So too is the other child performer, Alana Iannace, who played Little Red. Jack’s mother, Emma Wilczek, is impressive as she takes us on an emotional rollercoaster trying to both guide and protect her mischievous son. Great pathos.
Sondheim is innately complex in musical structure and lyric, yet under Mark DeLaine’s musical direction the cast rise to the occasion admirably. Many an adult production has fallen foul of the vocal canons and challenging stanzas but here they sought to highlight the vocal abilities of these young people. The group numbers are simply marvellous.
My only criticism is that DeLaine begins the show in a classroom setting before we are quickly transported ‘Into the Woods’. The desks and chairs remain on stage in what one imagines is an attempt at physically embodying the minds of children wandering into fairy tales. The idea is great but the practicalities fall short in the limited space of the Star Theatre stage. The desks are pushed to the edge of the stage and are a distraction as well as a physical barrier to the cast moving freely in and out of the wings. On opening night they were knocked constantly. Hopefully they will alter their positioning for the rest of the season.
Bravo!! It was ambitious but it is one of your best productions to date.