This is a bit of an odd review for “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim (book by James Lapine) as there are really two events happening on stage. One of course is the show, but just as important as the show is the fact that this is the 10th Anniversary show from The Edinburgh Playhouse Stage Experience project. Stage Experience is the flagship project of the theatre’s community engagement and creative learning programme and it allows young drama students the opportunity to work with leading industry professionals and develop their skills. This is an enormously important project as it is vital that theatres invest in the next generation of potential theatre stars and professionals.
This show had a huge cast of 120 and with “Into the Woods” they chose an incredibly complex and musically difficult piece of work to perform. This was the full two act musical and not the shortened and musically re-arranged “junior version”
The story itself is a complex weaving of well known fairy tale characters as they are sent “Into the Woods” on various quests - including one from a witch who has cursed the local baker’s family with childlessness. The plot is complex, but if you want to find out more visit this Wikipedia link
Although this is a musical production, the normal rules of review have to be put aside a bit to allow for exactly what the cast are. These are all young, amateur performers. All are drama students at different levels of natural talent and performing skill and the fact, allowing for the occasional little “bump”, that the overall production quality of the show is so high is a tribute to all the performers and the production team. These include (amongst others) Adam Knight (Producer and also Edinburgh Playhouse General Manager), Peter Corry (Director), Matthew Reeve (Musical Director) and Louise Ferrier (Choreographer).
One little detail of this production that I really liked was that certain scenes were sponsored by local businesses, including Your Fault sponsored by a firm of defence solicitors, Rapunzel’s Song by a hairdresser, and Cinderella at the Grave by a local funeral director!
If I had to pick out one person on stage tonight though as a future musical theatre star it would be Zoe Moore as the witch. When you have that natural talent at just 17 years old, it is really up to yourself how far you take it. If ever there was a theatrical role just sitting waiting for Zoe, it would be as the witch Elphaba in “Wicked”. I say that not because the two parts are witches, but the songs from “Wicked” seem to be just right in Zoe’s vocal range.
The show got off to a bit of a slow start, but improved quickly and improved enormously as the young cast got more comfortable with facing what must be a daunting sight of a full Playhouse Theatre.
There are some wonderful songs here including “No One Is Alone” and “Children Will Listen”.
The finale song “Children Will Listen” is very appropriate here as the work of “The Stage Experience” project is not only to develop young talent, but also to build and develop confidence in young people. It does not really matter what direction this young cast go in as they grow up – some may become theatrical stars, some work in the theatre, others in amateur productions, some may never do anything associated with the theatre in later life, but the important thing is that they have all been given an experience that they will never forget and probably along the way been given an interest in music and theatre that stays with them forever.
Review by Tom King