McMaster Musical Theatre production of Into the Woods
I grew up with musicals; they’re some of my first memories of music. Annie, A Chorus Line, Sweet Charity, My Fair Lady are just some of the musicals I was mesmerized by and belted out as a kid (and you wonder why I’m such a Gleek now!). Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning Into The Woods is one of those that completely enchanted me from a very young age. I saw it live when I was quite young and I remember attentively watching my library-borrowed VHS copy of the filmed stage version, featuring original Broadway cast members Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason. I must have watched it many times over – the images and songs always stayed with me. I hadn’t seen it in years and was thrilled when we heard about McMaster Musical Theatre’s production.
I hadn’t been to Lyric Theatre since it was revamped from the former Westside Theatre. It has a cozy, laid-back set up, with cabaret style seating (tables and chairs) rather than rows of seats. We made friends immediately with a couple of people at our table. The space was filled – they had a very successful run of shows.
It was the perfect play for Avishka and I. We took a Fairy Tales course together during our stint at McMaster and it’s a class we giggle about and reference to this day. In that class we read many of the stories that are referenced in Into The Woods and we had fun remembering things we took from those tales and comparing that to how the fairy tale conventions are cleverly played with in the play.
Into The Woods cannot be an easy production to stage effectively, not that it’s ever easy, but this play in particular is very intricate. With such a huge cast and layered music and lyrics, it is a lot to keep track of. Andrea Pohlmann (who also directed The Importance of Being Earnest) did an excellent job as director; I can’t imagine how to begin to tackle it all. Chris Vergara held everything together brilliantly as The Narrator/Mysterious Man and was an absolute joy to watch. I first saw Chris (who is also the president of MMT) play Angel in Hammer Entertainment’s production of RENT, my all-time favourite musical, and he continues to be someone I look forward to seeing perform in local productions. Another standout for me was Madeleine Mant as the Baker’s Wife, who had great stage presence and a beautiful voice. Brad Dunn was also terrific as her husband, The Baker, and Julia Theberge successfully explored both sides of The Witch, another major force in the play. The table behind me were particular fans of Harrison Martin as The Cow, and we laughed along with them every time at his adorable facial expressions. Harrison Cruikshank (who we also saw in Earnest) and Jason Wolwowicz were a great onstage pair as the two princes (their duet “Agony” is a hilarious highlight in the play). Really, I want to name everyone involved, it was such a wonderful cast. I am always in awe at the talent in this city and this also made us proud to be Mac alumni!
The live band that was perched above the stage was also excellent. Obviously, the music is everything, and they performed the vibrant and complex score with ease, headed by musical director Eric Hanenberg.
Something we also loved about this production was the glitter motif. Chris, as the the Mysterious Man, had the audience roaring with every fistful of glitter he threw about, accompanied by his comical sound effects. We always appreciate a little theatrical flair, and during intermission Avi and I were contemplating when in life we could incorporate throwing a handful of glitter, just to make a point. When quitting a job? Breaking up with someone? The possibilities are endless. We could all use a little more glitter in our lives. The purple glitter that was sprinkled liberally on each table in the audience was a nice touch. (I noticed “glitter” was also listed among the Special Thank You’s in the program, fittingly enough.)
Of course, along with all the mirth lies some important messages in the play. As much as I loved Into the Woods as a child, I get so much more meaning out of it now. Some of the most striking lyrics for me are from my favourite song of the play, the powerful “No One is Alone”:
Sometimes people leave you
Halfway through the wood
Do not let it grieve you
No one leaves for good
You are not alone
No one is alone.
Thank you to MMT for allowing me to venture back Into the Woods, a trip that was long overdue.