Our quarterly magazine, ‘SONDHEIM the Magazine’ does not usually carry reviews of student productions for reasons of space, except when there is a specific purpose such as an article on student productions in general. When we commission reviews and there is not enough space in the Magazine we will feature the review here.
Into The Woods by Performance Preparation Academy’s Musical Theatre Diploma third-year students at Bellerby Studio Theatre, Guildford, 5-8 November 2014
After the contemporary Into The Woods at the Rose & Crown in Walthamstow, it was back to the traditional version of the great Stephen Sondheim musical (book by James Lapine) and a seriously good one directed by PPA’s Head of Musical Theatre Gerry Tebbutt with a cast of 24 anxious to impress and winning hands down.
Having worked with Sondheim as a cast member of the original London production of Gypsy 41 years ago – and acted with the great Angela Lansbury – Tebbutt’s understanding of one of his finest works, a cautionary fairytale interweaving Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel with one made-up one, about the childless Baker and his Wife, was beyond dispute.
It is a tale of two halves – be careful what you wish for, says the lighter, longer first act. Lo and behold, the sh*t well and truly hits the proverbial fan in the very dark, complex second that shows the sometimes-tragic consequences of wishes and quests.
It is an ideal starter for Sondheim first-timers and a fascinately inventive concept with as much humour as sadness. When as well achieved as this production, the three hours never seem a moment too long nor do those who rate it one of Sondheim’s best-crafted musicals ever tire of watching it.
How could you not warm to such great songs as ‘Giants In The Sky’ (well delivered by Max Abraham as the gormless Jack), ‘Last Midnight’ (Recca Ibbott as a striking Witch) and a particularly moving treatment of ‘No More’ by Scott Livingstone as The Baker, an actor-singer I would very much like to see again.
The comic songs are done a treat: ‘Agony’ by the two Princes, has always been a hoot, and Alessandro Lubrano and Joshua Clare make the very most of their big show-stopper, with Lubrano’s exquisite timing and pointing of lines suggesting he has a big future.
(Different actors played those parts at other performances but this was the Cast B version I saw. Altogether 27 students perform six shows over four days and even the back and front end of Milky-White the cow changed to give as many students as possible live experience in front of a paying audience).
‘Hello, Little Girl’ is equally funny with a superb Wolf in Stuart Randall licking his chops at the thought of getting them into Little Red Riding Hood (a chirpily winsome Kerry Loosemore), immediately after having first sated himself on her unsuspecting Granny (Lucy Collins). Thankfully, along comes The Baker, in pursuit of Red’s cape, to slay this ravenously lupine villain and free the ladies from the beast’s innards in a brilliantly bizarre bedroom scene that’s played for all it is worth.
Sadly, there are too many parts in this ensemble piece to mention everyone but it would be remiss not to give a round of applause to Daisy Wheeller, a terrific Baker’s Wife with excellent acting skills. Her ‘Moments In The Woods’ after being willingly ravished by Cinderella’s sex-mad Prince was a highspot in Act II.
Daisy is the daughter of prolific youth-theatre playwright Mark Wheeller and has clearly inherited her father’s love for drama. But there is not a weak link and the standard is very much on a par with “big brother” up the road, the Guildford School of Acting (which seems to have at least one ex-pupil, and usually several, in every West End and Fringe production I see). That’s not surprising as Tebbutt was doing the same sterling job at GSA for many years and they have a very committed team, led by principal Louise Pieri.<br>
The simple set, with big boxes painted with twigs and branches on one side moved around to represent the woods, Rapunzel’s tower and every piece of scenery that’s required (bar Granny’s bed!), was a masterstroke of creative minimalism – Jenny Gamble was in charge of set design – while the costumes (principal Pieri had a big hand there) were as on the money as the band – two pianos, violin, flute and clarinet – under MD Francis Goodhand. Sondheim has never been one for making things easy but all five of them were totally in tune with this wonderful score.
It’s extraordinary that one Surrey town with a population of under 100,000 can have two such glorious seats of musical theatre learning. Only six years old, and with the three-year diploma course going for just half that time, PPA, with a lovely young, friendly feel about it, is clearly going from strength to strength. They’re doing Carousel next summer and I want to be there.