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Sondheim Into the Woods
at Royal Opera House and at Greenwich Theatre

Music and lyrics Stephen Sondheim, book James Lapine
Narrator – Gary Waldhorn,
Cinderella – Gillian Kirkpatrick,
Jack – Peter Caulfield,
Jack’s Mother – Anne Reid,
Baker – Clive Rowe,
Baker’s Wife – Anna Francolini,
Cinderella’s Stepmother – Elizabeth Brice
Lucinda – Lara Pulver,
Florinda – Louise Bowden,
Cinderella’s Father / Mysterious Man – Martin Nelson
Little Red Riding Hood – Suzanne Toase,
Witch – Beverley Klein,
Cinderella’s Mother / Granny / Giant – Linda Hibberd
Wolf / Cinderella’s Prince – Nicholas Garrett
Rapunzel – Christina Raphaelle Haldane,
Rapunzel’s Prince – Nic Greenshields,
Steward – Byron Watson

Orchestra conducted by James Holmes
Director – Will Tuckett
Designer – Lez Brotherston
Lighting Designer – Tim Mitchell
Sound Designer – Chris Full

Linbury Studio Theatre at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden 21 June 2007

See full review in Classical Source

This is a great music-theatre work, enjoyed not long ago at the Donmar Theatre and at Trinity College of Music, where I said that "it resonates in the memory".

"Now" being more immediate than "then", we found this production as inventive and accomplished as any, with huge ingenuities (probably not unduly costly) in the design and staging, enhanced by brilliant unobtrusive 'sound design' and lighting.

Not by any means a chidren's show (its darker second half brings the fairy tales up to date in terms of contemporary concerns) it was interesting to see a Sondheim musical soon after enjoying again Strauss's Capriccio about the long running Prima la musica e poi le parole controversy.

In his thoughtful programme article More ways to learn What you Know James Holmes discusses the challenges of taking Sondheim into the Opera House which, "with the shift in the vowel-consonant ratio required, does not lend itself to the talents of operatic performers; - - what a sophisticated piece of musical and theatrical clockwork - - it tells five stories at once" with consummate panache.

No time, unfortunately, to detail individual contributions, and the run is sold out! But worth trying for returns, definitely. For us, a more rewarding evening of musical theatre at Covent Garden than the current Katya Kabanova.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See full review in Classical Source

ILLUSTRATION: Red Riding Hood & the Wolf

Sondheim Into the Woods
Trinity College of Music
at Greenwich Theatre, London, 28 November 2003

The Vocal Studies Department (head, Linda Hirst) of Trinity College is not a specialist department to be compared with the International Opera departments of the other London colleges, and national opera critics don't rush to South East London. It is therefore a cause for congratulation that Trinity regularly offers memorable productions, as diverse as those of King Arthur (Purcell), Poppea (Monteverdi) and now this Sondheim.

Into the Woods ran for 764 performances in 1987 on Broadway, and has proved durable and rewarding, musically as for its 'multiple moral layers' (Keith Motson). It can be thought of (sacrilegiously?) as a 20 C equivalent to a German opera with spoken text like Zauberflöte. Trinity College's presentation easily bears comparison with the recent revival at the Donmar Theatre, and confirms Sondheim's claim on the serious consideration of opera-goers (Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, which I have reviewed frequently, is to be revived at Covent Garden next week; will they do better than Opera North last year?).

Modern musicals have the advantage (which a revival of, say, a Haydn opera does not) that they have usually been honed through pre-views and maybe modified in revivals to reach their definitive form, in this case one in which the first half seems so self-complete that some audience members always believe it is finished when the interval arrives! After the break, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine find an obverse side, dark and indeed almost harrowing, before the uneasy resolution, with no conventional 'happy endings' to the interlocking, updated tales.

Elaine Kidd directed the show to bring out individual qualities from each member of the large cast, with invaluable support by movement director Peter Wilberforce. Rather than trying to say a few words about the individual singing actors, I would just like to give one telling example of the attention to detail; the two 'children' who sat listening either side of the 'story teller' managed the feat of being totally in character and involved throughout the long evening.

The students, a large cast, all projected their roles zestfully, with their words clear right up to the back of this medium-sized theatre, to which I hope they will return regularly as an extension of the local Trinity College network. The 13 piece orchestra under the ideal musical direction of Robert Purvis was fully professional and sounded just right from the theatre pit, on their toes and confidently relaxed,.

Although Into the Woods is a thoroughly adult entertainment, it resonates in our thoughts, after a busy week of college opera, even more than does Haydn seen at the Royal Academy or Britten's at the Royal College, owing its special success to having a youthful cast, closer than hardened professional music theatre performers to the world of childhood and fairy tales.