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Musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. Directed by John Crowley and Jonathan Butterell, choreographed by Jonathan Butterell.

A new production of Sondheim and Lapine's reworking of children's fairytales. Exquitely interweaving various comic bedtime stories, Sondheim deftly exposes their dark, nightmarish flipside. A journey from levity into chaos, when instantly recognisable characters start behaving in the most unrecognisable ways.

The score includes 'Children Will Listen', 'Gaints In The Sky' and 'No One Is Alone'.

Michelle Blair......Milky White
Clara Burt..........Witch
Frank Middlemass....Narrator
Louise Davidson.....Stepmother
Ceri Ann Gregory....Lucinda
Michael N Harbour...Mysterious Man/Cinderella's Father
Nick Holder.........Baker
Samantha Lavender...Rapunzel
Dilys Lane..........Cinderella's Mother/Granny
Christopher Pizzey..Jack
Matthew Rawle.......Rapunzel's Prince
Sheila Reld.........Jack's Mother
Jenna Russell.......Cinderella
Caroline Sheen......Florinda
Sheridan Smith......Red Riding Hood
Sophie Thompson.....Baker's Wife
Tony Timberlake.....Steward
Zoe Walsham.........Milky White

Sondheim Sings, Vol. 1: 1962-72
CD, released 10 May 2005.
Stephen Sondheim turns 75 this year, and in celebration of his birthday, PS Classics Inc. will be unveiling the many demos held in his private collection, of him singing and playing songs he's written from 1946 to the present -- all digitally remastered. Some of these songs have never been heard, written for productions that never happened or cut from shows out of town; many others ended up on Broadway in versions substantially revised after the demos were recorded, giving us a rare chance to hear the artist actually creating his masterworks. Volume I of Sondheim Sings covers the years from 1962 to 1972 and is available to pre-order online now....

Donmar Warehouse Theatre previewed 6 November, opened 16 November 1998, closed 13 February 1999

Extracts from the reviews:

"The Donmar's latest show presents Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and host of other fairy-tale characters but it's no pantomime. Instead, it's a smart revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's musical morality tale. This theatre recently acquired a reputation for star casting with Nicole Kidman but the star of John Crowley's production is not an actor, but his brother, the designer Bob Crowley. With the audience on three sides, this is not an easy space for designers but Crowley casts a hugely, evocative spell... His Hansel and Gretel style furniture and the beautiful backcloth suggest classic children's illustrations but his palette is richer, darker and stronger. As the characters set off into the woods in search of their wishes, the backdrop lifts to reveal a dense, lush forest of evergreens rising up to a tiny castle. Moodily lit by Paul Pyant it is all richly redolent of Grimm's fairytale, highly appropriate as not everything ends as happily ever after as the hopeful and sprily comic first half promises... Sondheim provides his character with some of his most heartfelt music, climaxing with the beautiful quartet "No-one is Alone". This is, in every sense, a chamber version. The musical director Mark Warman has re-orchestrated the piece for nine players to wondrous effect, bringing out the colours of the score with aching solo cello lines and translucent woodwind wiring. His tempi tend to be slow which sometimes robs the action of drive and momentum but it means that for once you hear virtually every single word of the telling lyrics. John Crowley's direction is similarly detailed, encouraging a very droll wit from his company, notably Clare Burt's stylish witch. Yet occasionally you yearn for more energy. Some of this stems from voices which aren't strong enough to really lift the music and hence the drama. Musing on her unexpected moment of pleasure with a prince, the baker's wife sings of a life full of tiny moments, before realising that "if life were made of moments, then you'd never know you had one". That's a peculiarly apt description for a production whose intimacy makes you feel as if you are watching a well-acted play with music rather than being treated to a full-blown musical. Audiences at Sondheim's Company reacted with shocked delight to a musical which challenged them intellectually. Into the Woods is not quite in the same league but at its best it vividly demonstrates that musicals need not be for children or the childish." David Benedict, The Independent

"The Donmar Warehouse has a matchless record in musical revivals. But, while John Crowley's production of Sondheim and Lapine's Into The Woods offers civilised pleasure, it is also rather thinly sang. In stressing narrative rather than vocal values, it denies us much in the way of aural ecstasy. What does come across is the rich allusiveness of the basic fable. In the first half, a baker and his childless wife, in order to lift a Witch's curse, are sent on a quest to recover Cinderella's slipper, Little Red Riding Hood's cape, Jack's cow and a strand of Rapunzel's hair. Death dominates the second half as the wife of the giant that Jack killed demands a sacrificial victim, and the play becomes altogether more mysterious and suggestive... While this is a cunningly wrought musical, the performance is decidedly uneven. Frank Middlemass 's Narrator lacks incisiveness and some of the cast wouldn't recognise a note if it was handed them on a silver platter. There are some exceptions: Sophie Thompson's go-getting Baker's wife, Clare Burt's Witch, Jenna Russell's Cinders and Sheridan Smith's perky brat of a Little Red Riding Hood. In the end the show works because it is about something so much more interesting than, as in Oklahoma!, whether Curly will take Laurie to the box-social. All it needs is more attention to musical values." Michael Billington, The Guardian

"It is easy to admire Stephen Sondheim, much harder to love him. There is a cold calculation about his work, an ostentatious cleverness that holds the audience at a distance. And more often than I care to admit, during his shows, I find myself yearning for a great blast of good old-fashioned vulgarity. Into the Woods, first seen in New York in 1987, is one of his more accessible works, fresh, ingenious, often stimulating. Why, then, did I keep doodling the word "bored" in my notebook? Simply, I think, because though the mind is engaged, the heart remains almost untouched... as in so much of Sondheim's later work, there is a dearth of take-home tunes. The occasional passages of melody come as a real surprise. And though, at their best, the lyrics are genuinely witty, others have a distinct whiff of the rhyming dictionary about them. There are other, more unexpected, weaknesses. The narrative is often surprisingly confused, and John Crowley's excessively leisurely staging does little to clarify it. Worse still, Sondheim seems reluctant to come up with anything truly subversive... Bob Crowley (the director's brother) has contributed a witty design, featuring a dense forest of Christmas trees and a pair of giant spectacles. There is a strong cast, with especially fine work from Nick Holder as the baker, the delightfully quirky Sophie Thompson as his wife. Clare Burt plays a witch who moves from the grotesque to the glamorous with high style and Sheridan Smith makes an unusually spunky Little Red Riding Hood. Yet emotional involvement, the lifeblood of all great musicals, is in desperately short supply. Only at the very end, when the bereaved baker tries to comfort his crying child, did I suddenly discover a lump in my throat." Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph

"I came out of Stephen Sondheim's extraordinarily enchanting, fairy-tale musical humming the ideas - or at least trying to. For to decipher the themes lurking at the melancholy heart of Into The Woods you would best be a psychotherapist. It's ages since there was a more thoughtful musical in London. Such a verdict makes Into The Woods sound like a taxing grind of a theatrical journey. Misleadingly so. For Sondheim's 1987 musical importunes you with eeriness, transmits a sardonic humour as its lovers and families struggle amid alluring music and cryptic lyrics. At first Into The Woods tricks you into imagining a composite, kids' fairyland had been created by Sondheim and James Lapine, author of the book. But adults are the real target audience. Red Riding Hood; Cinderella with her repellent sisters; Rapunzel; Jack, a pantomime horse and a dilapidated witch with black twigs crowning her head are all assembled in what looks like the verge of one of Arthur Rackham's forests. Then Bob Crowley's design, with its back projection of misty, sinister woods, gives way to a wilderness of fir trees. There is more to these woods than meets the eye. They represent the dark broodings of the unconscious and into this dreamy terrain a childless, young baker goes questing for the magical ingredients that the witch will need to provide him and his wife with a child. In the beautiful glows of Paul Pyant's lighting these enchanted woods are full of the sounds and sights of people in hot pursuit of their heart's desires or at the mercy of other people's... There are no show-stopper songs, but the first act builds to an exuberant finale of fairy-tale happiness achieved, which makes it seem as if nothing's left to sing about. Then in act two Sondheim springs his surprises, as an angry, old female giant wreaks havoc . "You get what you wish for just for a moment," Sondheim's lyric warns, setting out to show the evanescence of love. Sophie Thompson as the Baker's wife, who coos and gurgles, sending up her role in a melodramatic cross between Maggie Smith and Fenella Fielding is one of the first to lose her life - more a case of mercy killing. Nick Holder's rather bovine baker is left with a bereft Cinderella, Jack and Red Riding Hood to found an irregular family of outsiders whose song No One Is Alone intrudes a final note of sentimentality. John Crowley's production beautifully shapes the musical in the Donmar's small space, though some of the performances are archly affected. Into The Woods still emerges as a magical, psychotherapy musical, which makes adult sense of childish fairy tales." Nicholas de Jongh, The London Evening Standard

 
 
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