Into the Woods by Company C January 28-February 6, 2016. A review.

Into the Woods by Company C January 28-February 6, 2016. A review.

The large performance hall (formerly the church hall of St Mary’s Oak Bay) at the Canadian College of Performing Arts has been transformed, once again, into a magical world for the final performance of the 2015-2016 Company C year—Into The Woods by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.

There’s something warm and inviting about the space with its vaulted roof, reminiscent of an upturned boat. Sound in particular takes on a very special timbre—resonating and moving slowly into every nook and cranny. Excellent work by the sound design team (Paul Tedeschini and Aaron Wells) keeps each note crystal clear—a feat with 14 actors and numerous electronic mics. With Sondheim and Lapine this is especially important—the audience needs to be able to hear the many nuances of the lyrics, melodies and narration.

The set (RJ Peters, Caitlenn Bull and Dane Smit) is comprised of a central clock face on a low floor dais, with towers to either side, stage left and right; the audience seated in sections across from one another. Netting, with hand tied leaves, hangs from the ceiling and effectively mimics the forest canopy. The orchestra, directed by Heather Burns, is tucked away as if in a thicket. Despite the musicians’ inconspicuousness, the level of skill they bring to this production is evident—the discordant and minor-key harmonies ring out, and whisper softly, creating added dramatic tension. It was a pleasure to note violin (Shima Takeda) and trumpet (Dave Flello) alongside the more common quintet configuration of woodwinds (Rainer Roth), bass (Joey Smith), percussion (Jonathan Eng), keyboard (Bard L’Écuyer) and piano (Heather Burns).

Lighting, in keeping with the underlying current of hidden menace inherent in the story, is dark and atmospheric. Company C Production Manager RJ Peters (also a CCPA alum) performs double duty, mentoring Company C members Kyle Auclair and Gabriel Macdonald.

Victoria native and renowned director/choreographer Sara-Jeanne Hosie (directing for the first time at CCPA) delves deep into the psychology of the story taking the fourteen actors of the ensemble into unexplored recesses in these familiar tales. Into the Woods is not your typical fairy tale with happy endings. The journey to resolution has many twists and turns that are fully exploited with wonderful flourishes.

As the Narrator, Sarah Carlé (a professional actor and CCPA alumna who appeared in the first Company C production of Into the Woods ten years ago) is both precise and irreverent, with a slightly tongue-in-cheek take on the proceedings.

This tongue-in-cheek esthetic spills over into the gender-bending casting of the step-sisters Florinda (Gavin Forbes) and Lucinda (Kyle Auclair) as well as the costume design (Kathryn Boyd, Lexy Young and Gavin Forbes) with touches like fur collar and cuffs for the Wolf (Dane Smit), fuzzy slippers on the Step-Mother (Lexy Young) and step-sisters, and cartoon character T-shirts sported by the two princes. It is also mirrored in some of the laugh-out-loud movement choices (no spoilers!).

Notwithstanding funny moments, Into The Woods is a story of struggle to find meaning and answers, of wishes unfulfilled, and of longing. The Baker (Aaron Wells) and his wife (Alexandra Willett) want a child; Cinderella (Megan Underwood) to escape her drudgery; Jack (Lina Wahlstrom) and his mother (Caitlenn Bull) a way out of poverty; the Witch (Cailin Taverner) an end to a curse; Rapunzel (Helena Descoteau) to escape her tower; Little Red Riding Hood (Kathryn Boyd) to explore beyond a well-trodden path. Along the way to happiness, there are hidden complications—a giant, a wolf (Dane Smit) and eager princes (Dane Smit and Gabriel Macdonald). And—just who is the Mysterious Man (Jarod Crockett)?

With a score rich in memorable songs and fourteen accomplished musical theatre students, there are many moments to savour. Cailin Tavener is commanding in a raging Last Midnight; Dane Smit and Gabriel Macdonald bring pathos to Agony; Megan Greenwood is perfectly hesitant and undecided On the Steps of the Palace; Alexandra Willett gives voice to every deep impossible desire in Moments in the Woods. The ensemble numbers crackle with intensity, syncopated rhythms and perfectly executed turns.

One of the great pleasures of watching students as they finish their studies, is noting their growth as artists. Jarrod Crockett stymies the audience as the Mysterious Man, and is perfectly punctilious as the Steward—small roles elegantly executed to enrich the overall experience of this complex and challenging work.  As the Baker and his Wife, Aaron Wells and Alexandra Willett excel at the formidable task of tying together all the threads of the multiple story lines.

The final Company C member, Jenny Austin, is also due recognition for her outstanding (and often overlooked) job as stage manager.

In the ten years since Company C was founded, the bar continues to be raised with the professional quality of the work. When it comes to “student theatre” audiences in Victoria are spoiled for choice. Congratulations to cast and crew on daring to set foot into woods that are “lovely, dark and deep”.

Into the Woods continues February 3-6 at 7:30pm with a 2pm matinée on February 6th.

Into the Woods poster Jan Feb 2016

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