Most plays can’t be easily compared to party store items, but McMaster Musical Theatre’s production of Into the Woods on Feb. 25 (its second night) wasn’t like most plays. It was pure glitter.
There was glitter on the stage, there were glitter-tossing moments, and there was even glitter decorating the tables where the near-full house sat. Not surprisingly, glitter was specially thanked in the play’s program. But the comparison runs deeper. The production itself fell over you like a shower of sparkles – kind of disorienting, sometimes chaotic and uneven, but more often than not, there were flashes of brilliance.
For the unaware, Into the Woods is a musical mega-fairytale that pulls familiar characters – Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack of Beanstalk fame and more – into a story about choices, connections and consequences. A Baker and his Wife attempt to lift a Witch’s spell, hoping to conceive a child. Their quest draws numerous narrative threads into a single, very tangled cord.
With almost twenty characters and seamless integration of a live orchestral backing, song and dialogue, Into the Woods is undoubtedly a technically demanding show. It could have been easy for the production to become mechanical, or worse, to come unhinged. Thankfully, nothing of the sort happened.
After an uneven opening number, Julia Theberge’s Witch pulled the audience into the play. Wisecracking and slightly terrifying, but somehow strangely relatable as an overprotective parent, she made the script of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine her own. From then on in, it was a character free-for-all. The characters – their challenges, quirks and passions – were what the audience noticed. They shone – sparkled, even – and caught our attention like, yes, glitter.
Madeleine Mant brought an authenticity and sweetness to the Baker’s Wife, even giving a touchingly accurate portrayal of a pregnant woman wincing her way through an elaborate dance number. Choreographer Chantal Labonte was en pointe here and especially also in the solo of Little Red Riding Hood (a wonderfully expressive Nicole Jerdzejko). Harrison Cruickshank and Jason Wolwowicz were scene-stealers as princes. Their duets were met with roars. Cruickshank especially, with his deadpan delivery and delightful self-assuredness, did the near-impossible – making his lamé tunic look simultaneously regal and ridiculous.
No character was too small to leave an impression. Matthew Bergen was a hilariously lecherous Big Bad Wolf. Thomas Ciolfi captured Jack’s sweetness and vapidity. As Jack’s long-suffering mother, Rebekah Pullen’s comedic timing was impeccable. Julie Lane was a believably frail and knobbled grandmother. Harrison Martin gave a surprisingly stirring silent performance as Milky-White the Cow, though his udder was more reminiscent of a deflated jellyfish than anything else.
Chris Vergara as the Narrator was the Everyman Into the Woods needed to pull things together. Part vocal effects (baby birds and human baby cries), part lighting effects (it was he who tossed the glitter) and the rest charm, Vergara broke tension and drew out some large laughs.
The orchestra, perched high above the stage, was effective without being distracting.
Behind the glitter, there still was substance. In conversation, Vergara and Mant both talked about how they hoped audiences would walk away thinking a bit more carefully about their choices. “I hope they realize that the world is a lot more connected than we think. Your decisions have repercussions that you couldn’t predict,” said Vergara.
“It really makes you ask yourself, ‘Once I get a happy ending, what’s next?’” said Mant. “Nothing is as clean and simple as it might at first seem.”
If you like your fairy tales with a little bite, glitz and glamour, take a trip Into the Woods.
Into the Woods continues Thursday, March 1 through Saturday, March 3 with matinee and evening performances at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Hamilton. Tickets are $25.00 for adults, $15.00 for students and seniors, available at tickets.lyrichamilton.com.