Posts Tagged ‘into the woods

03
Oct
15

Into the Woods

 

Into the Woods

Harvest Rain

QPAC Concert Hall

October 1 – 4 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

intothewoods_nickmorrissey

 

I met my husband during a production of Into the Woods. Have I told you this story? Probably. Poppy delights in the delivery, repeating it with a straight face precisely the way Sam tells it, and telling it proudly on Harvest Rain’s opening night to a random woman pre-show. “Daddy was the handsome prince and mummy was the witch and apparently, he says, nothing’s changed.” (You’ll have to wait to read the rest of the story. It’s not all Poppy-appropriate).

 

Harvest Rain uses the tagline, “You’ve seen the film, now experience the magic live on stage” to promote their production of the Sondheim-Lapine favourite. I was one of the eighties children to whom Michael Schulman referred in The New Yorker last year (although I was never too good for Lloyd Webber!), who felt excited and scared about the release of Disney’s movie version of Into the Woods, and then felt disappointed after finally seeing it. HR’s production, produced and directed by Tim O’Connor, doesn’t stray too far from the original Broadway version, which you can still find online. This is a good thing. When I was growing up we wore out a VHS tape of the first television broadcast of this brilliant PBS American Playhouse performance.

 

In 1989, from Thursday, May 23 to Saturday, May 25 the full original Broadway cast (with the exception of Cindy Robinson as Snow White instead of Jean Kelly) reunited for only three performances for the taping of the musical in its entirety for the Season 10 premiere episode of PBS’s American Playhouse and first aired on March 15, 1991. The show was filmed professionally with seven cameras on the set of the Martin Beck Theater in front of an audience with the with certain elements changed from its original nightly counterpart only slightly for the recording in order to better fit the screen rather than the stage such as the lighting, minor costume differences, and others. There were also pick up shots not filmed in front of an audience for various purposes. This video has since been released on Tape and DVD and on occasion, remastered and re-released. This video is considered to be the original Into The Woods. 

 

In defiance of previous, more lavish productions though, O’Connor makes a point of doing a couple of things very differently, depending largely on our imaginations and the skill of the actors, particularly in terms of the props used. Into the Woods is still one of the most challenging musicals to get right, with a complex score and a deeply nuanced book full of familiar fairytale characters making not-so-familiar decisions and changing the course of those well-known tales forever.

 

intothewoods_narrator_nickmorrissey

 

In a masterstroke (and a great improvement on the use of the same milling and seething and dressing device used in Jesus Christ Superstar), O’Connor establishes old-school storytelling in the style of Shakespeare’s mechanicals and retains, in the tradition of Pippin’s Leading Player, the use of the Narrator (the likeable Dean Vince) not only as storyteller, but also as a sort of master of ceremonies, seeking and presenting props, and gently persuading characters to act within the narrative bounds. He never leaves the stage…until he is pushed. The Baker (Eddie Perfect) and the Baker’s Wife (Rachael Beck) respond to the detail of his tale as he introduces it, Jack (Tom Oliver) takes from him a bicycle for a cow, Little Red Riding Hood (Kimberley Hodgson) loads him up with armfuls of bread, and Cinderella (Georgina Hopson) looks to him for reassurance as she goes to the tree in which her mother’s spirit resides (Natalie Greer). Vince is integral; he’s the golden thread weaving all characters together and should he find a little more Ben Vereen-ness by the end of the season (it’s a short one – one weekend!), he’ll serve as the perfect anchor too.

 

I wonder when we’ll see HR’s Pippin? I’d love to see that!

 

 

There is more movement than necessary in this production (not least during the Witch’s lament – somebody tell those stepsisters to stay perfectly still! #focus101), however; it’s without the usual impressive choreography from Callum Mansfield. This can almost be forgiven for there’s very little space on stage, in fact, barely enough for the happy couples at the end of Act 1 to gallop across it. Josh McIntosh’s multi-level design forces the action downstage, with several steps leading to an upper level (above an underutilised cavern partially concealed by a hessian curtain) taking centre stage and claiming much of the space. The only characters that use the steps to good effect (and without inducing barely audible gasps of the “don’t fall!” variety) are The Baker, Cinderella and Cinderella’s Prince (Steve Hirst). With the orchestra hidden behind “the woods” (though we barely glimpse them they sound sensational under the competent hand of Jason Barry-Smith), ultimately the darker subtext of the setting is lost, as all are pushed forward into Andrew Meadows’ brighter, whiter lights.

 

intothewoods_cinderella_prince_nickmorrissey

 

Obviously I’m partial to the Handsome Prince archetype – I married one after all – but it’s not only this bias (and a slight resemblance to Russell Crowe in one of his better roles, in Master and Commander – must be the wig) that makes Hirst memorable. He nails it, and does a decent job of the Wolf as well, losing none of the original dark intent of this role, a flicker of the other, particularly in the physicality, and presenting a fine match for Hodgson’s spunky Little Red. Hirst’s sonorous vocals and confidant comedy (tongue placed firmly in cheek) are reminiscent of his Sir Galahad, of course, and are perfectly suited here. Despite being glossed over (for the sake of the children, just as Jack’s song seems to be?), his moment in the woods with Beck is delightful, and predictable in every arrogant male conquest sense of the word (insert eye roll here). By making a little a lot more of his princely entrances and exits he might have an award nom worthy body of work. Just saying.

 

intothewoods_littlered_nickmorrissey

 

It’s true that Hodgson has the plum role and in it she too is a stand out, absolutely gorgeous and genuinely hilarious, landing on every one-liner, providing much of Sondheim’s carefully placed light relief and witty wickedness in the only truly original take on a character in this production. Hodgson brings the moral tale intact but it’s repackaged for a new audience, fresh and funny and poignant. A graduate in 2013, Hodgson represents the bright talent and intuitive approach to performance that the Queensland Conservatorium of Music is nurturing under the guidance of Paul Sabey and co.

 

intothewoods_cinderella_bakerswife_nickmorrissey

 

Another Qld Con grad (2014) and a finalist for this year’s Rob Guest Endowment Award, the disarmingly lovely Hopson effortlessly carries the Cinderella story and gives us one of the most insightful and mature readings ever of On the Steps of the Palace, which is no mean feat! Hopson, both vocally and emotionally, handles one of Sondheim’s greater musical challenges with care and consideration for this character’s decision making process. As well as some sweet moments between she and Beck (A Very Nice Prince), Hopson sets up Cinderella’s part in the relationship with the Prince, preparing us nicely for their inevitable (agreeable) decision to go their separate ways, as some of us must.

 

intothewoods_milkywhite_nickmorrissey

 

Eddie Perfect, Rachael Beck (these two really are lovely together), Penny Farrow and Tom Oliver also work just beyond stereotypes to bring us the reality of being childless and penniless, although Oliver would do well to drop the accent and give us the Australian voiced adult version of Giants In the Sky, which might give us a greater arc between the initial wonder and final realisation (and satisfaction) of Jack…and a valid reason to view him as Dash Kruck’s only real competition for the title role if there were to be a professional production of Pippin in the future. JUST SAYING.

 

intothewoods_witch1_nickmorrissey

 

Now, will we talk about the tall, leggy, sparkly elephant in the room? I love Rhonda Burchmore, but not in this role. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time of casting, but perhaps more through misdirection than any of her own choices (who ever really knows?), a commedia-esque mask in Act 1 (concealing desperately needed complex emotions) and too-too-too-high heels in Act 2 (making a comedy of each entrance and exit) make it difficult for Burchmore to really sell the nuances of this role. So many moments fall flat and there is no wide-eyed, amazed applause after her part in the Prologue or Last Midnight, which should retain an element of surprise, just as the transformation should, regardless of the number of times we’ve seen the show. Despite Natalie Greer’s work as Rapunzel, even Stay With Me somehow misses the mark. The role, rather than being approached as an extension or manifestation of some aspect of the performer, is treated as a star vehicle and the show is the poorer for it.

 

A friend commented after the show about Into the Woods being such a great ensemble piece, and with so many on stage there’s not really one who shines…but the Witch should shine and her presence should be felt even after she’s gone. We should be moved beyond words, horrified and full of feeling for the woman who fails so miserably at motherhood. Burchmore has the hardness but not the vulnerability or tenderness that even the wickedest witches among us must feel. Perhaps this Witch would have felt more comfortable on stage – and on those steps – in her Camilla kaftan and flat gold sandals, which were donned for the after party.

 

intothewoods_witch2_nickmorrissey

 

Outside of some of the performances, there’s little magic in Harvest Rain’s production, though the “simple and rudimentary” approach to the storytelling is a far cry from explaining it. After the light and breezy feel of Act 1 we’re left with the darker aspects of the story – of life – but not in any real, raw sense. When it comes to Harvest Rain I can never quite put my finger on what’s missing but here’s another example. The Mysterious Man (Ron Kelly) employs an inexplicable nasal tone throughout (and sports a blanket?! I can’t even…) until he reveals who he really is, a moment that becomes a missed opportunity between father and son while they are separated by physical distance, destroying any chance of a tangible connection for us to tap into (No More). Similar proximity between Jack and The Baker separates them at the very moment they need to be drawn together, as Cinderella and Little Red are (No One Is Alone). These are the inconsistencies now commonplace in O’Connor’s productions. For some unknown reason, he continues to miss vital moments in storytelling and relationships, as if the intimacy is too much. And yet, once again, this is an entertaining, enjoyable show, boasting considerable talent and perfectly suitable for the whole family. Who am I to question odd staging decisions?

 

There’s no denying the awesome effort that has gone into building the company, from its humble church hall beginnings to its current status as a formidable professional presenting brand, incredibly, without government assistance (though not for much longer, I’m sure), but let’s see casting challenges met and the bar continue to be raised. Cheers and here’s to the upcoming (Spectacular Spectacular) Hairspray!

 

Two midnights gone! And just 4 more shows – today at 2pm & 7:30pm and tomorrow at 1pm & 6:30pm.

 

12
Sep
14

A Doll’s House

 

brisbanefestival2014

 

adollshouse

 

A Doll’s House

La Boite & Brisbane Festival

The Roundhouse

September 10 – 27 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

Concision in style, precision in thought, decision in life.

Victor Hugo

 

Writer, Lally Katz, and Director, Steven Mitchell Wright, have recreated A Doll’s House for a new generation.

 

I’m not sure exactly what the new generation will get from it though because I feel the conclusion is slightly skewed. Is it just me? I always wonder what other people will take away from a show. I think the opening night crowd loved it! But the ending? Not so much.

 

Tara-Moss

The feminist message is so overstated by the conclusion of this production that I feel sure I would have been happier to miss the final gear change and escape before the end, still anticipating, as Lally’s mum’s English teacher put it, “the door slam that was heard all over the world.”

 

 

The end of the three acts is an anomaly, completely at odds with the style and sophistication of the rest of the piece. The poorly matched bag and shoe colour-blocking fashion statement takes us defiantly back to the eighties, the music brings us well and truly into the nineties, and its strangely staunch feminist diatribe, after the fluid, modern, poetic language of the play, transports us stubbornly back to the seventies, when women’s lib was a thing. Okay, so it’s still a thing (it’s always been a thing), but in a very different way. In this country at least, we’ve been talking intelligently for a while now about equal rights, without having to burn our Honey Birdette bras and shout about it from the rooftops. In fact, I listened last weekend to Tara Moss talk very intelligently about it. (She’s actually my new favourite public person, right up there with our Cate).

 

At the risk of repeating myself, allow me to explain. I don’t want you to avoid seeing A Doll’s House because the ending is wrong for our time and place.

 

Like all good drama, the play speaks for itself. We don’t need the contemporary voice here to sum it all up in case we missed the point, in case we’re stupid. It just doesn’t ring true. Until this point Lally’s version is exceptionally clear – there’s no missing the message in this fresh and insightful adaptation – and when the essence of Ibsen’s original play (illuminated more brightly than ever through the beautiful, subtle changes in text and Mitchell Wright’s unnerving, alienating staging), is lost in the explanation, it’s like listening to the host of the party trying to break down a joke when someone doesn’t laugh at the punchline. Look, seriously, sorry, but the thing is this: if you’re having to explain a joke at your own event you need a) a new guest list and/or b) new material.

 

Admittedly, I was feeling slightly wary of Steven Mitchell Wright’s treatment of Lally’s updated text. (Wary is my defense mechanism. I don’t like to be disappointed). By this I mean, after recently experiencing The Danger Ensemble’s very challenging Caligula, I went into A Doll’s House not knowing what to expect! (N.B. This is a good thing in theatre). This neat team comprises Lally Katz and Steven Mitchell Wright, and Designer, Dan Potra, Lighting Designer, Ben Hughes, and Composer & Sound Designer, Dane Alexander. Hughes’ lighting states and Alexander’s soundscape whisper discreetly together, with NCIS ad break clunks to punctuate plot points and the innermost thoughts and feelings of the characters, until the ambience morphs into some sort of subterranean club scene. I’m already freezing and by the time I begin to visibly shiver I have to get out. I’ve never been so cold in The Roundhouse. The temperature and the volume are moving in opposite directions, forcing me outside into the marginally more comfortable night air of the Theatre Republic. It’s so discomforting it’s brilliant. Talk about experiencing the theatre! When I go back in, the space is still too loud and too cold and too small. It’s claustrophobic and if it were hot it’d be cloying. Because I’m still freezing I’m tapping my foot in spite of myself. It’s so not tapping-your-foot-to-the-music music. It’s music to go mad to. (And the bass clearly takes others to the point of madness about three quarters of the way through the final act, persisting underneath something classical, but I don’t mind it. I’ve slid down venue doors and heard that beat for hours longer. It’s sort of vaguely comforting, and it makes me think, responsibly, “THE BATON PASSES ON!”)

 

The company has achieved something extraordinary with this play (because let’s just forget that dreadful ending ever happened), which is to create an entirely new experience of one of our greatest feminist (or rather, free choice) plays. I always loathed it until I read it so many times I loved it. Nora annoyed me, and yet I chose A Doll’s House for an extended study unit in Senior Theatre (back when we called it just Drama). I designed costumes and a shoebox set, complete with actual doll’s house furniture. I didn’t consider this to be cheating; I thought it demonstrated my initiative, and an uncanny ability to source precisely whatever it was the production needed. It’s taken years for my skills to be truly appreciated in an actual theatre. Anyway.

 

desperatehousewives

Potra’s creepy Grimm Brothers’ fairytale hair cum forest trees and tendrils (Wisteria Lane, anyone?) literally trap the inhabitants of Torvald’s house – a sort of a Sleeping Rapunzel Beauty effect – and the first few times our actors break into song, I expect to hear the princes’ refrain from Sondheim’s Into the Woods. (When they don’t sing it, I hear it inside my head anyway!). It’s a device that allows the opportunity for melodrama and many mini comedic moments. Each song also offers a glimpse at the complex machinations of the characters. But what I suspect is that it may simply be a bemused statement on musical theatre. I could be wrong…

 


 

I love the clever, slightly untidy action leading into the final moments of the play, when the actors connect additional power sources to light up the pallet parquetry floor from beneath, only to reveal its cracks. The cracks in the floor (in the faces, in the hearts and minds and souls of so many men and women), were always there, but until they’re illuminated it’s possible to stubbornly/naively/foolishly/destructively ignore them.

 

It’s brave, of course it is, to stage something so known so drastically differently, to trust your actors so completely to bring new aspects to each character, giving us new insight into an age-old story. If you’ve never seen A Doll’s House, originally staged in 1879, a month after Ibsen penned it, this one is a fascinating production, well worth making the effort to get to. And interestingly, when much younger members of the audience laugh (well, let’s say they are not that much younger), I feel a rush of sadness for Nora and still, despite our “progress”, a tenderness for women everywhere. I overhear an older couple discussing whether or not the young people are “getting it” and I can only conclude they are “getting” something completely different from the show. Or maybe not so different at all. It’s in that (and in my own response to the work), that we see the real magic of this version of the play.

 

I didn’t think I could ever sit through another production of A Doll’s House. We just don’t accept anymore that a woman relinquishes the right to answer back to her husband, or to manage her own affairs, but in this entertaining and moving production, it’s entirely believable. Of course this is largely due too, to the superb cast, comprising Helen Christinson (Nora “Hummingbird” Helmer – a delicate and precise little kewpie doll creature, like our Wife in Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde, whose silent scream is loud and clear and whose Tarantella is, for one moment in time, just as wild and desperate as it should be. It’s at this point that a new production might find its finish. Christinson makes me ache for her…and wonder what it is the redheads in Brisbane theatre circles have been taking. I want some is all.), Hugh Parker (Torvald Puppet Master Helmer), Chris Beckey (Krogstad), Damien Cassidy (Dr Rank) and Cienda McNamara (Kristine).

 

If you have yet to be called an incorrigable, defiant woman,
don’t worry, there is still time.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés

 

We continue to see Steven Mitchell Wright create the most incredible original work, and with the support of La Boite Theatre Company and Brisbane Festival, this time he’s turned straw into gold, pulled Granny from the belly of a wolf and planted a magic bean at the end of the rainbow. I’d say this production marks Steven Mitchell Wright as being well on the way to joining our country’s directing giants.

 

01
Sep
14

Into the Woods

 

Into the Woods

Queensland Conservatorium

Griffith University

August 22 – 30 2014

Conservatorium Theatre

 

Reviewed by Jackson Kellaway

 

intothewoods_company

 

On Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of seeing the talent that the Queensland Conservatorium is pumping out. Their graduating students presented Soundheim and Lapine’s Into The Woods and it was a magical masterpiece.

 

The students had the opportunity to have Kate Wilson direct this production. Her extensive career as a director and academic was obviously very beneficial for the graduates. This shared knowledge is something the students will forever remember and be able to apply in their very bright futures.

 

The performance level of these students is nothing less than what you would expect from Queensland’s premier musical theatre training institution. The talent shone through the smoke effect on stage as the company took us into an imaginative world based on our favourite fairy-tales. The cast had fantastic concentration and focus throughout the performance and the comic timing was perfect. Rehearsing since May this year, the production team pulled together a clean-cut musical for anyone who is a fan of the Grimm stories.

 

The Dead Puppet Society oversaw the design elements of this production; an amazing learning opportunity for these students. It was visible from the mixture of old and new school techniques used in the production that the students had embraced the puppetry elements that were taught.

 

Anyone who knows the musical will agree that the music and lyrics are quite intense and wordy. In some songs the words are being sung so fast you can barely keep up and in others the timing must be so precise between the singers. With this in mind it is no wonder the production team included Soundheim expert Stuart Pedler who shared his knowledge on the talented lyricist.

 

intothewoods_cinderella

 

After a bit of confusion as to whether our happily ever after had been cut short or not, we realised it was just interval. Unfortunately a few people weren’t aware of this and didn’t make it back for Act 2. With the vacant seats throughout the audience the lights dimmed and the show went on.

 

intothewoods_princes

 

I almost turned as red as Jack’s hair when I suddenly heard the familiar Nokia ringtone emitting nearby. After what felt like hours the audience member finally turned it off. Then another audience member decided that the orchestra could be improved by her opening what sounded like every bag of chips from a 20-pack variety box. I was secretly wishing the witch would fly off the stage and turn them into an ugly stepsister or even Milky-white, Jack’s beloved cow.

 

All in all my first Queensland Conservatorium experience was incredible! The connection between the cast members and the powerful vocal work presented could not be described as anything but phenomenal. They have definitely gained a fan.

 

Putting the spotlight firmly on the graduating class of 2014, this is pure talent – exposed!

Through blood, sweat, tears and a considerable amount of laughter, this talented group of young performers have worked incredibly hard over the past three years to develop their skills as musical theatre performers. OUR TURN! showcases these students through a delicious taste of the world’s most entertaining and often moving repertoire in vignettes of song, dance and scene in a talent-packed one hour show. Let Queensland Conservatorium’s stars of tomorrow entertain you today!


OUR TURN!
at QPAC begins the showcase tour. Other cities include Sydney and Melbourne.

 

This is a wonderful opportunity to share in the enthusiasm and excitement that has surrounded the Musical Theatre program at the Queensland Conservatorium. Catch a glimpse of Australia’s next Musical Theatre stars!

 

Our_Turn_14_event

 

12
Oct
12

Geppetto

 

Geppetto

 

Geppetto

Emma Dean and Jake Diefenbach

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts

Friday 5th October

 

Reviewed by Andy Clark

 

Geppetto Into the Woods

I was anxious about the launch of Geppetto’s EP at The Judy, as it fell at the end of a week where my favourite band had released their 6th album on Monday and I had the absolute pleasure of watching the greatest guitarist on earth perform in Brisbane on Wednesday.

 

But I had nothing to fear. Emma Dean and  Jake Deifenbach have been performing together for over 6 years. Their voices and musical styles are absolutely complimentary and blend together like the perfect doubles partnership at Wimbledon. Seated across the stage from each other, with Dan Hirsch drumming occasionally, like an experienced musical umpire, Emma & Jake fire shots at each other from their keyboards and lungs. Each shot is returned with precision and accuracy and the audience are the winners, lapping up each exchange as if it were Laver v Court on Centre Court.

 

Within Geppetto’s set there were plenty of songs that could match MUSE’s Olympic anthem for awesomeness and creativity, whilst Emma and Jake continued to swap positions from their grand piano and keyboard as each rally ended.

 

Despite no guitar in sight, Geppetto created an atmosphere which was as out of this world, as Joe Bonamassa’s guitars had created at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre two nights earlier.

 

The opening song and title track of the Into The Woods EP has intricate piano parts and Emma’s voice made me think of Kate Bush’s vocal genius. Emma is one of very few artists I have heard live who gets anywhere near the Goddess Ms Bush. The opening act Silver Sircus seemed to like performing songs by their Music GODs. Although their interpretation of Life on Mars was ok, their cover of Nick Cave’s Little Water Song lacked the depth and imagination of the version of this song on Triple J’s Like a Version 2 from 2006 on which Emma Dean played violin. If anyone is to attempt to cover Kate Bush I think they need to have an upper range to allow this. Emma could do this, but unfortunately Silver Sircus double faulted with their version of Kick Inside. I’ve been searching for over 30 years for a voice who can cover Kate Bush and I think Emma is in a very small group who can do this. Others include recent ARIA Winners, Florence & this year’s ARIA nominee glaring omission.

 

Geppetto performed some covers superbly.  Jake delivered a heartfelt version of Secret Love whilst the acapella version of Anthony and The Johnsons’ For Today I am a Boy as the first encore left the audience breathless.

 

Part way through the set Emma discussed how she is sometimes perplexed by why she continues to do what she does, whilst all around her many friends are getting married, buying houses and having babies. Two Geppetto song titles maybe reflect what Emma’s friends might encounter in that it is All Fun and Games to start with, but too often in 2012 it ends up being This is Where the Trouble Starts.

 

I hope Geppetto continue performing for years to come and Pinocchio can wait to be created.

 

Geppetto

 

 




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