“And they all lived happily ever after”.
It’s a phrase that all kids grow up hearing at the end of the classic fairytales. Cinderella gets her Prince, Jack finds his riches and looks after his mother, Little Red Riding Hood frees her grandmother from the stomach of a wolf, and then everyone lives the lives of which they’ve always dreamt.
Or do they?
Sondheim’s Into the Woods twists these fairytale ideals and looks at what happens after ‘happily ever after’. For Chris Anderson, director of Western Arts Theatre’s (WAT) current production, Woods has been his favourite show “since before I even knew what musical theatre was, and I’ve always wanted to bring a unique interpretation of the show to the stage. I’ve always been fascinated by the original source material for the stories within the show. To that end I’ve always thought about how it would look if these elements from the storybooks came to life on stage, and how that relationship with the audience (and Narrator) through the 4th wall would work, especially if everything on stage had a really strong design aesthetic”.
Such is Anderson’s passion for the piece, he has been actively working on the show for the last four years. “Western Arts Theatre has been incredibly supportive of my creative vision”, says Anderson, “and the company’s ethos of supporting community growth through productions like Into the Woods really speaks to me as an artist in Melbourne’s theatre community.
Choreographer Kai Mann-Robertson also speaks highly of the company. “I’ve worked with them previously on Annie as Assistant Director and Choreographer. They’re such a great new company looking to make a name for themselves so I’d be happy supporting them however they need in the future”. In contrast to Anderson’s early exposure to the show, Mann-Robertson only came across Woods at the time of the premiere of the 2014 Disney film. “I wish I knew it earlier”, reflects Mann-Robertson.
When WAT held auditions for Into the Woods, the response was overwhelming, so the production team had the marvellous problem of assembling a cast from a talented crop of actors. In the rehearsal room, this has given way to a dedicated cast.
“One of the things I have most treasured about working on this piece has been the work ethic of the younger cast members”, says musical director Janet Proven. Chanda Anderson Prior (Little Red), Jamie Brown (Jack), and Caitlin McCallig (Lucinda) arrived at the first rehearsal with most of their parts already down. They are incredibly focused and play their roles superbly. They are so far ahead of where most adults were when I first started doing theatre! They will be a huge asset to any company they work for in the future”.
In this day and age, one could be forgiven for wondering what relevance fairytales could have in today’s society. And yet, Into the Woods is so much more. “At its simplest, it’s a fairytale mash-up”, offers Anderson. “But underneath the incredibly clever weaving of these much-loved stories are beautiful characters singing beautiful songs and grounding these fantastical stories in a really human way. I think a lot of the moral issues the characters face can easily be reflected into our own modern world, and that’s what’s so interesting about what seems like such a basic premise. What happens after ‘Happily Ever After’ really does make for exciting storytelling”.
If you’ve never seen Into the Woods before, head along to Western Arts Theatre’s production. Proven comments, “There are many beautiful moments in the piece that make me laugh every time – or bring me close to tears…Jack’s ‘I buried her in a footprint’ – Cinderella’s Prince’s ‘I was raised to be charming, not sincere’ and the Baker’s Wife’s ‘I need your shoe to have a child!’ are a few of my favourite funny bits”.
Into the Woods runs from Wednesday September 27th – Saturday September 30th.
Tickets are available from clocktowercentre.com.au or call the Box Office on 9243 9191.