Seeing the film adaption of a musical before watching it live is not my favourite order to experience a story, much like I prefer to read a book before watching its cinematic counterpart. I find that after watching a film I associate the actors with the characters too much to appreciate the nuances of a live performance.
I was worried that this would be the case for Into the Woods, the film of which I saw in cinema and own on DVD. I needn’t have worried, however, as the performance by The Midnite Youth Theatre Company was fresh as the baker’s bread, and I was too busy gaping at the young actors’ musical abilities to give Emily Blunt any thought.
The play, originally by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, is about the nature of stories. Particularly those we tell our children. The fairy tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and various others are entangled in two acts where everybody gets their happily ever after before the interval.
Extending the stories beyond their traditional endings—with a little Brothers Grimm gore thrown in for good measure—works to question the concept of happy endings, and what lessons they are really instilling in young readers. The characters’ decisions in pursuit of their wishes in the first half have consequences that reverberate throughout the second half with the force of a giant’s foot. The ragtag team composed of Cinderella, the baker, Jack, and Little Red Riding Hood struggle to come to terms with the responsibility they must take for their actions, epitomized in the delightful song, ‘Your Fault.’
Having had their deepest desires granted our heroes are still not satisfied. The play reminds us that life does not stop with a curtain after a wedding, a birth, or a wolf’s murder, and living through what comes next is more difficult than completing a witch’s task. The characters’ ineptitudes are humorous and endearing, except for perhaps Cinderella’s inconstant prince, whose vapid charm is exasperatingly funny.
The narrator’s murder mid-sentence during the second act emphasises our inability to control our futures. The play reflects real life in fiction, removing the familiar conventions that keep us comfortable and forcing us to face ourselves, all in the guise of a fun fairy tale.
The Midnite Youth actors, all aged between 18 and 25, are astonishing performers. Their vocal talents gave me literal chills, and Cat Perez’s unhinged witch gave Meryl Streep a run for her money with ‘Last Midnight’ and ‘Children Will Listen.’ The musicians arranged across the multi-tiered stage stretched the line between fiction and life even thinner, although my constant worry that one of the pacing actors would misjudge a step and fall on a poor flautist or violinist was a little distracting.
What spark was lacking in the emotional scenes fizzled extra bright in the comedy. Adam Di Tullio’s nasal-voiced, purse-lipped Steward who doubled as a flock of excited birds never failed to draw belly laughs from the audience. Two characters displayed a spectacular slide and fall when entering at speed from upstage, played off so smoothly I still cannot be certain that it wasn’t scripted.
Into the Woods by the Midnite Youth Theatre Company runs from the 28th November to the 1st December at the State Theatre Centre of WA and is as captivating as a witch’s spell.