Bankstown Theatre Company: Into The Woods - Review by Josh Straw
Sondheim is challenging - objectively so. His songs are some of the most lyrically demanding and complex pieces to perform, and every detail needs to be seamless for something truly outstanding to emerge. To successfully perform an ensemble piece from Sondheim on stage is an achievement for actors, directors, musical directors, and choreographers alike. I was curious to see how 'Into the Woods' would translate onto an amateur stage for this reason, and truthfully, there is only one word I can use to describe Bankstown Theatre Company's recent opening of the show... Professional.
It is evident that Director/Choreographer Dennis Clements had a clear vision with his casting and design for this show, and it has paid off and then some. The design of the set was vivid and beautiful. The lighting choices allowed it to hold a storybook quality in one breath, and yet in the next, it was dark and ominous. It is a testament to Clements' vision that such an amazing show could come to the stage and invite the audience on a powerful journey through the woods. I second this when speaking about Music Director David Catterall; as I said, Sondheim is challenging, and I am beyond impressed with the attention to detail from all the performers, which I imagine took endless rehearsals. The layers of music and the journey in each lyric were mesmerising to witness on stage, and I could not help but smile throughout.
At its core, 'Into the Woods' is an ensemble show that plays on the strengths of its performers. I cannot overstate the talent on this stage. Every performer was in their element, and it felt to me that each character was lived in and understood. With such a large ensemble of characters, it is hard to give each performer the adequate time they deserve in a review, but I must stress that this cast is extremely talented and were all strong performers and vocalists in their own right.
Narrator Jake Nelson was an excellent storyteller. He delivered the story in a well-to-follow fashion while still embedding that needed touch of humour and levity to the role. I trusted Nelson to tell the story well. The Baker was played by Max Newstead. Newstead brought a strong sense of character (and an equally strong voice) to the role, and I felt that he presented someone who felt real and grounded in a fairy tale world of fantastical characters. The Baker's wife was played by... Well, his wife! Anita Newstead was charming and quirky in the role; she had excellent comedic timing, and there was a warmth about her that made the audience feel absolutely comfortable. The relationship of the two was evident on stage, and I loved seeing the real-life couple bring such a believable and moving relationship to their characters.
Ileane Pipitone's portrayal of the witch was unique and entertaining. She made choices in the role that were new and intriguing, and this really allowed the humanity of the character to bleed through. With strong characterisation throughout, and just as strong a voice, she was amazing to watch on stage. Lucy O'Brien had a wonderful voice and characterisation of Rapunzel. I had no shortage of joy listening to her sing, and overall she did a great job with the character. I can only imagine the weight of such a wig and have nothing but respect for her endurance. Bronte Tonks took on the role of Cinderella, and it was magical to behold. She brought buckets of charm to the role, but also a realness to the character that you may not notice from other performers. The message of her character is clear, but I'll let you learn that yourself. She has an amazing voice that carries Sondheim well and blends with every other performer on the stage. An extra shout-out to Tonks for pulling double-time as the assistant choreographer on top of her princess duties!
Even though it was an expected comedic presence, I was still thoroughly entertained by Rapunzel's Prince and Cinderella's Prince, played by Jack Maidment and Brandon Lindsay, respectively. They were charming (of course), and silly, and funny, and every bit the fairytale princes we needed on stage. There were moments in the performance where they both had the audience laughing uncontrollably (or in Agony, you might say), and even as I write this, I am laughing in memory of it. As Little Red Riding Hood, Kayla Ingle-Olson brought strength and mettle to the role. Every intention was clear on stage, and her characterisation of the innocent (yet cut-throat) little girl was spot on. I was amazed by her vocal range and thoroughly impressed with her performance overall.
Lewis Wall's rendition of Jack was moving and well-executed. I was more than convinced of his love for Milky White (the shining star of the show), and the pure heart of the character shone through in his performance. Jack has some tough songs to perform, and Wall's voice was more than up to the task. Tisha Kelemen stood out to me as Jack's mother; this can be a fairly straightforward role, and yet Kelemen drew your attention any time she was on stage with her gripping and often hilarious characterisation. It goes to show that there are no small roles in theatre.
This show was professional - some of the best community theatre that I have ever seen, truly. I could nitpick at small technical errors or little mic glitches, but it really isn't worth it because it does not dull the shine of this outstanding show. The whole cast and crew should be so proud. I very much enjoyed my journey through the woods and would happily do so again. I give this production 5 Bone-Dry Milky Whites out of 5.