Lately, it seems we’re all forced to face a little darkness every day. When the sun sets at 4 p.m., and January feels never-ending, students can use a good chuckle and a few dance numbers—all of which the Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society (AUTS) provides in spades with its wonderfully charming rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods (1989).
Before the play even begins, Katie Miller’s set design is striking, its grandness and whimsy filling Moyse Hall. While often underappreciated, set design can make or break an audience’s immersion, and here the set does not disappoint. The homes of Cinderella (Sunny Sheffman), the Baker (Cathal Rynne) and his wife (Emma Corber), Jack (Matt Milton) and his mother (Maya Lewis), all evoke the musical’s eccentric, though gloomy, Brothers Grimm motif.
Unfortunately, the costume design does not fit the set’s aesthetic. Hip and flashy, almost none of the costumes fit the dark, fantastical theme of Into the Woods. From Eva B sweaters, to ‘90s-styled sneakers, to bright socks of every colour in the rainbow, these costumes are a bold production choice and ultimately poor addition to the play. There are exceptions, however, including Rapunzel’s Prince (Eddy Yang), Cinderella’s Prince (Alexander Grasic), and Little Red Riding Hood (Claire Latendresse), whose costumes amuse without distracting from the setting.
The rest of the production’s technical work is amazingly quick and creative, the most prominent example being when the Wolf (Lucas Amato) disguises himself as Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. Befittingly reminiscent of moments from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a screen obstructs the actors so that they can only be seen through animated dancing shadows.
Melissa McCracken’s choreography is another strong point of Into the Woods. The dancing is in sync, precise, and playful, particularly in the song “Ever After.” The quick and whimsical nature of the performance’s dances follow the music closely, at some points feeling as if the musicians and actors are part of the same mind and body.
Ben Barton Creelman’s outstanding musical direction allows the musicians to stay in sync with the actors. Even with only 12 musicians, Creelman’s musical ensemble sounds like that of a much larger orchestra, delivering a vivacious and lively tune for every scene. Nevertheless, the music would not be as magical without the actors’ impassioned singing. Almost every actor fills the room with their voice, especially in the duet, “It Takes Two.” Corber and Rynne take the song’s rather drab lyrics and sing it in perfect key, conveying the sense that perhaps their characters are truly in love.
Through a constant delivery of humour, an effective technical background, impressive instrumentation, and expert singing and dancing, AUTS’ production is a lively and cheerful rendition of the Sondheim classic.
Into the Woods is presented at Moyse Hall from January 25 – 27 and February 1 – 3, with performances beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at autstheatre.ca