“Once upon a time…”

These are words we have heard countless times. As children learning to read we were introduced to the world of books through these four words. They begin the famous fairytales of our childhood, and come up time and time again, in films, TV, even music. They set you down a path of incredible things; magic, faraway lands, kings and paupers and fire breathing dragons. They are followed by endless possibility. Most simply, they are a beginning.

Growing up, these words represented bedtime stories. Often times we were read fairytales, being introduced to characters like Cinderella, Rupunzel and Little Red Riding Hood. There was always a frightening character, like a Witch, whose illustrations showed a bent, old and angry woman. But despite some more scary pages, the book always ended with a happily ever after, where everyone got what they wanted, and things ended well.

But have you ever wondered what happened next? Once the last page of the book turns and the characters seem to be content with their lot. What comes after the happily ever after?
Maybe the prince grew bored with Cinderella. Perhaps there were more Giants than the one who was killed chasing after Jack. Well now you can find out what really happened in ACUPA’s performance of Into the Woods.

The Baker and the NarratorWith music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by James Lapine, Into the Woods debuted in 1986 and has since had six further professional productions including three revivals, all of which have won Tony awards.

The show brings many familiar fairytale characters to life, but in a way you would never expect. It takes us back to the original Grimm fairytales, which are not quite as light-hearted as we all believe: “Many people have been swept up in the Disney telling of the stories and may not have read the original fairytales,” says Director, James Wood. “They were written as moral stories [so] there is a real darkness.”

As Wood says, the stories were intended originally to teach children good behaviour by, in essence, terrifying them. The belief was that if children thought terrible things would happen to them if they were bad, then they would be good. And usually these stories worked. Often, the lesson is subtly hidden within the story. Little Red Riding Hood, for instance, is essentially a lesson in stranger-danger: “It’s insight into the human condition, not just fairytales anymore. There is relevance for how we live our lives now,” says Maxine Montgomery who is to bring the infamous character of the Witch to life.

“[These stories] are very important for our society and that’s why they’ve survived for so long – for hundreds of years,” adds Dean Mitchelmore who is playing the character of the Baker. “Fairytales are to teach people how to cope with things.”

And the fairytale characters in this show certainly have to cope with a lot, when things go terribly wrong. “Everything is as you think the fairytales are for a while but it’s put together in a way you didn’t expect, and then things go really really wrong in Act Two and that’s where the best bits are,” says Montgomery. “People really show themselves for who they are and that’s the bit I love.”

Not only do the characters have a lot to deal with, but the performers themselves have embarked on the perilous journey that is Sondheim's music. For all you die-hard Sondheim fans out there, you’ll understand what a treacherous rehearsal path this shows bring, but if you are unfamiliar with his music, know this: he is famed for his complicated musicality.  Emily McClean, the Baker's Wife, had her own unique challenge: “I wasn’t originally cast as the Baker's wife. I came in half way through rehearsals, so it’s been quite a rushed affair but it’s been very enjoyable and everyone’s been very supportive, especially Dean who’s playing the Baker. In terms of the music, the most difficult thing for me has been the rhythm and the reprises with slight differences from each other. His music is very wordy, and everything that’s written means something, so you have the get the words right!”

But never fear, audiences. Sondheim’s music is in safe hands. With a talented musical director in Ian Nisbet, an experienced director in James Wood, and a cast of well-trained and enthusiastic theatre performers, we know we’re in for a treat. The cast has several classically-trained singers, including Montgomery (Witch) and McClean (Bakers Wife). Woods also has his hands full with several cast members who have been directors in the past: “They are real leaders in the cast. They’re great mentors for the less experienced cast members.”

As a relatively new company, only having begun last year, ACU Performing Arts (Australian Catholic University) is growing with each show it presents, and each show is bringing something new to its audiences. It brought the classic musical Godspell to life last year, and now, with Into the Woods, the cast and creative team are filling the stage with those fairytale characters we know and love, but with that special Sondheim twist.

To see whether there is a happily ever after in sight for our favourite characters, book tickets at: http://www.trybooking.com/13686