Photo Credit: SMC Troubadours
This magical show is everything audiences wish for
Claudia Doyle, Arts Editor
Like any timeless musical, Into the Woods has experienced many notable revivals since its Broadway debut in 1987. The 2014 film version featured a star-studded cast that included big names like Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, and Johnny Depp. Most recently, the 2022 Broadway revival, which was met with rave reviews, featured big names in the musical theatre community. Sara Bareilles (famous for writing and starring in Waitress) played the Baker’s Wife, and Phillipa Soo (best known for originating the role of Eliza in Hamilton) played Cinderella. A lot of greats have attached their name to this musical because it is uniquely powerful and heartfelt. When done right, it is a thought-provoking spin on classic fairy tales that speaks universally to audiences. I was thrilled to watch the SMC Troubadours’ production of the musical, and I was even more thrilled to find that the cast and crew gave Into the Woods the care and attention that it demands.
Every character begins the show with a wish, and they set out into the woods to achieve their goals. A Baker and his wife wish for a child. Cinderella wishes to attend the King’s Festival. Jack wishes his cow would give milk, and so on. The woods become a place of both obfuscation and clarity. The characters converge with one another, lose their way, and converge again in different ways. Ultimately, their journeys demonstrate that nothing is as simple as it seems. People are not just good, bad, naive, or brave. Princes are not always as princely as they appear, and witches do not always have the worst of intentions. The woods bring these realizations to light, forcing characters to make difficult decisions. Cinderella at one point sings, “I know what my decision is, which is not to decide.” But even her decision to avoid a decision in the woods has dire consequences.
The show’s music, written by Stephen Sondheim, carries the story perfectly. The 1987 Broadway show won multiple Tonys in 1988, including Best Original Score, and music director Jonah Nung, along with the rest of the band, did a fabulous job of showing us why. I was eagerly awaiting “Agony,” a hilarious rendition sung by the two Princes (they don’t have real names, which contributes to the sense that these princes are really just that – characters without any distinguishing or redeeming qualities). Any production that can pull off “Agony” is a good one in my eyes, and indeed the audience was roaring with laughter as Nolan Rush and Evan Lee sang their hearts out. I was also very impressed by the female leads Emma Kidd (Baker’s Wife), Emma Faith (Cinderella), and Mia Rebelo (Little Red Riding Hood). I literally wrote “holy vibrato!” in my notes during intermission, because each of them had incredible vocal control. And speaking of strong female leads, Siobhán Gyulay handled the complicated character of the Witch wonderfully.
The character of the Witch uniquely embodies the strange blend of comedy and tragedy that the musical deals with. A common critique of the 2014 film version is that it plays too much into the tragedy of the story. Into the Woods certainly tells a dark tale, but there are a lot of funny and heart-warming elements that the movie loses. For example, a lot of gags have to do with Jack’s cow (and only friend!), which is represented in stage productions with a toy-like prop that Jack drags around. The movie uses a real cow, which takes away from the playfulness and the youthfulness that the show also relies on. Every aspect of the Troubadours’ production understood the unique tone of this musical. From the set design to the costumes, to the lighting and sound, this was a very cohesive production, and everybody involved understood the assignment perfectly. A packed theatre helped bring the final product to life, and the audience that filled Hart House remained enthralled throughout the show.