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Review: Into the Woods at the Star Theatre

Review By Regan Baker

This may not be my first rodeo with the Savoyards Musical Comedy Society Inc, but it is my first opportunity to see a performance from their development initiative Savoyards @ The Star, which was created to give their alumni and the community an opportunity to broaden their skills in theatrical production. The 282-seat Star Theatre at Manly State High School is a great little venue featuring the most spacious seats I’ve encountered in almost fifteen years of theatre-going, and good sound and lighting facilities to help the crew hone their craft in a semi-professional setting.

Into the Woods takes the childhood fairy tales that we loved as kids and breaks down their archetypes to instead build them into strong, independent and layered ‘real’ people. The story is segmented into several character arcs that intertwine on their journeys through the woods as they pursue their own needs and wants: The Baker and his wife who desperately want to lift a witches curse to have a child, Cinderella who wasn’t prepared to find love at the King’s Festival, and Jack, who has to overcome the pain of selling the family cow (his best friend) in order to provide food for his family.

Into the Woods is an ambitious production to tackle as there are several complex staging and theatrical elements that need to combine to create an immersive environment that will actively draw you into the story. From vast sets, to animal cast members and regular scene changes there is a lot going on, but unfortunately (for me at least), it just didn’t work. In saying that, I really do take my hat off to Director Vanessa Wainwright in her first directing role for tackling such an ambitious story especially when working on a community theatre budget. Personally, I find there are many elements of the original story that don’t quite work, but what I did like about this production was the cast and crew and the energy they brought to the stage.

I unfortunately only have the word-count to single out a few of the seventeen cast, but it’s important to note that all of them delivered strong performances and were the glue that held everything together.

Warryn James as the Narrator and Mystery Man was, in my eyes, the standout performance. This is the second time I’ve had the privilege of seeing him perform in a Savoyard’s production and it’s the second time I’ve loved him. His voice is naturally toned to be a narrator and the ‘spirit of the woods’ vibe that he brought to the Mystery Man was also well executed.

Andrew Dark and Astin Hammermeister as the Baker and The Baker’s Wife were a strong duo with a harmonious vocal combination. They had naturally appearing chemistry on stage and were both cast perfectly in their roles. Hammermeister was the standout vocal talent of the evening and held the most consistent performance throughout.

Young performer’s Paige McKay (Little Red Riding Hood) and Tavis Bancroft (Jack) also delivered solid performances in what I believe to be their first lead roles in a Savoyards Production. We’ve seen Bancroft on stage previously in the ensemble of Savoyards Oklahoma but taking on a lead role in Into the Woods demonstrates the purpose of having such an initiative that allows young performers to hone their craft by stepping into the spotlight.

Julie Eisentrager as Rapunzel also demands credit because, oh man, you could feel her wailing in your bones and her over exaggeration of the damsel-in-distress archetype also provided nice comic relief. And while it was only a bit-part in the grand scheme of the performance, David McLaughlin as the wolf delivered the perfect concoction of sleaziness and creepiness.

The lighting and technical team worked well with the cast on stage and delivered a consistent performance that added to the mood and tone of the show. Speaking of mood and tone, I would be inept if I don’t mention Music Director Matthew Semple for putting together a fantastic orchestra and producing a wonderful score.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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