Walking into the Joseph Rowntree Theatre you couldn’t help but be transported straight into the whimsical fairytale that is Into the Woods performed by NE Musicals.
To summarise a musical such as this is no easy feat – as the story takes more twists and turns than the magical woodland itself.
Into the Woods is at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre from Tuesday 25 to Saturday 29 April.
The tale follows the Baker and his wife, and their desire to have a baby and lift the curse left on their home by the the evil Witch. As they journey to collect the magical ingredients needed to lift this curse, they meet a number of fairytale characters on the way.
Expect the unexpected is the key to this Sondheim classic, which quickly turns from the familiar happily ever after to a darker more twisted tale as we allow the music to transport us through the sequence of unpredictable events.
I must begin with the incredible set design (Steve Tearle/Faye Richardson) and costuming (Paul Shriek/Steve Tearle) for this production. The theatre was almost unrecognisable as greenery covered the entirety of the stage, which left no doubt which musical we were about to enjoy.
Throughout the performance this creative design helped to keep the story enchanting as characters would appear and disappear quickly through the curtains of green and whilst the story is one continuous tale, this enabled smooth scene changes throughout.
The costumes, some of which were of a professional standard, personified the over the top nature of the characters we meet. From sparkling suits, to a dazzling witch reveal, even being greeted in the foyer by pixie-like creatures catching butterflies upon our arrival – every member of the ensemble fitted in perfectly with the creative theming.
Speaking of costuming and memorable characters, Erin Greenley’s portrayal of the cow Milky White deserves a special mention, and is a clear example that you don’t have to have lots of lines to steal the show. Flaunting about as the brilliant ‘cow as white as milk’, your eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to her performance throughout the show.
Undertaking a Sondheim classic as an amateur theatre group is a big challenge, one that NE Musicals rose to. As expected there were timing and tuning issues from time to time, with characters being dependent on musical director and conductor, Scott Phillips throughout.
However there were many well-performed numbers; ‘No One Is Alone’ in Act 2 was a beautiful moment between some of the leading cast, with wonderful harmonies and heartfelt emotion bringing stillness to an altogether busy, bustling show.
‘Agony’ performed by the hilarious princes (Sam Richardson and Kristian Barley) was a highlight and well deserving of the warm reception it received from the audience. Their camped up characters and costuming were well directed by Tearle and from the moment Richardson first leaped onto the stage, you knew you were in for a treat with this duo.
Cinderella (Rebecca Jackson) had an angelic voice and portrayed the innocence of the character exceptionally well, whilst Mollie Surgenor’s (alternating with Missy Barnes) was the polar opposite as the brilliantly boisterous and sassy Little Red Riding Hood, with an excellent voice on top.
Little Red’s chemistry with the loveable Jack (Jack Hambleton) only grew throughout the performance, and Hambleton should be proud of his portrayal – especially his solo ‘Giants in the Sky’ which had the audience transfixed.
Steve Tearle, creative director, producer and chairman, placed himself yet again at the heart of the show as the Narrator with unique character choices and storytelling throughout – his eagerness to ad-lib with the audience had the show feeling close to pantomime at times, I am unsure if this was part of his vision.
However the company and their efforts must be appreciated; NE Musicals is a brilliant representation of community theatre in York with a cast of all ages, abilities and so many of them that they only just all fit onto the stage! Whilst it is not possible to highlight each individual, the entire cast should be very proud of their team work and collaboration. You could see the passion accumulate during the large ensemble numbers and they were a strong, powerful unit.
If you want to see a performance that will take you on a spellbinding journey into the woods or if you’re a Sondheim fan, don’t miss NE Musicals’ production of Into the Woods this week.
Into the Woods is at Joseph Rowntree Theatre until Saturday 29 April. Tickets start from £16 and are available here.