Theatre Review: Chasing Your Dreams Into the Woods at McGill

The Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society Presents Sondheim Musical for their 2018 Performance

(left right) Alexander Grasic and Eddy Yang sing their hearts out in their “Agony” number as Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel’s Prince respectively. Photo Daren Zomerman
(left to right) Claire Latendresse as Red Riding Hood and Sunny Sheffman as Cinderella onstage for a heartfelt moment. Photo Daren Zomerman

If a witch tells you that she’ll make your wish come true in exchange for a few errands that need doing in a dark and enchanted forest, then you do it, right?

The Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society is back to retell the mysterious fairytale musical Into the Woods at Moyse Hall until Feb. 3.

A humble baker and his wife are desperate for a child, but remain barren since a witch cast a curse on their family tree. The Witch tells the Baker that she’ll reverse the spell if he can help her obtain the items she needs to fulfill her own wish.

So for the rest of the show, the Baker does as the title of the play suggests and goes, you guessed it, into to the woods to make their dream of starting a family come true, no matter what it takes. Cathal Rynne, a McGill engineering student, carries the role of the Baker with subtle confidence.

But he’s not the only one who’s dreams lead him to strange places in an enchanted wood. Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack with his magic beans are also desperate to make their wish come true.

The Baker’s Wife is a stubborn woman portrayed by Emma Corber, a fourth year theatre student at Concordia. Corber’s stage presence is strong and her powerful voice portrays the desperation for a child and her loyalty to her husband that her character is feeling.

Both Rynne and Corber are enticing in their respective roles, but they lack the chemistry the audience needs to justify their shady behaviour in the woods. For a couple who are dizzy in love with one another, it can be reasoned that stealing, lying, and cheating are a necessary means to achieve their greatest hope of having a child. The attraction in this show goes little beyond the actors’ scripted lines, so it’s hard to root for the manipulative couple as they take advantage of every other character.

Emma Corber as the Baker’s Wife being charmed by Cinderella’s Prince Charming.

The first item they steal is from a poor boy named Jack, who is off to sell his cow at the market. Claire Edrington is absolutely hilarious in the role of Milky White, the milkless cow. Though she never utters a word during the show, it is impossible to pull your eyes away from her when she is onstage. Her face tells a story in itself and her comedic style captures the audience immediately.

Her engaging performance is closely topped by Maria Jimenez’s masterful and maniacal rendition of the Witch whose presence onstage is an absolute delight. Her voice scratches likes nails on a chalkboard in a tone that’s almost addictive. Her performance for the song “The Last Midnight” is the highlight of the show, counting down their last chance at a happy ending.

At every progression of the show she is both the most likeable and the most detestable character. That’s the sign of a truly amazing villain.

Concordia’s Lucas Amato puts on a stunning performance as the Big Bad Wolf. His high-energy number “Hello Little Girl” dominates the first act. He oozes charm and malice in an over-the-top but completely loveable rendition of the role as he dances in tandem with Claire Latendresse as Little Red Riding Hood, whose innocent expression barely conceals the big notes she can belt.

In the scene where Red faces the Wolf in Grandmother’s house, a shadow screen drops on the foreground of the stage to show only the actors’ silhouettes. The effect is chilling. Latendresse caps off the scene with the classic number, “I Know Things Now,” which transitions her naivety to rebellion as she survives the Wolf’s trauma and learns to stand up for herself. The next time we see Red, she has rid she herself of her red cloak and is now wearing a wolf’s pelt instead.

Elizabeth Grieco as the Fairy Godmother onstage. Photo Daren Zomerman

The stage was set with gorgeous ivy tower scenery and a sweeping staircase. Unfortunately the set is minimally used, and most of the action takes place in the front part of the stage.

The first scene is crowded with three storylines unfolding in the small space, but a drop-down set makes the scene transitions clean and professional. There are only a couple of hastily choreographed numbers, and the rest of the songs rely heavily on the vocals.

While it may not be as visually stimulating, the vocal talent in this show is very impressive. Still, the script often jumps into new plotlines and sometimes it’s difficult to grasp everything that is happening so quickly.

Viewer beware; the first act of this show may lead you to believe that everyone ends up with their wishes realized, but it’s really only the beginning of the end. Stretch your legs at intermission and prepare for everything to go to hell in act two.

It’s a long show but the numbers are tight, the costumes are extravagant, and the energy and passion can be felt throughout the entire theatre space. This show has the kind of tunes you’ll be singing for a week, and it will probably ruin every childhood fantasy you once loved.

The show completely manipulates the audience’s perception of who is a hero and who is a villain. By act two you may just find yourself rooting for your least favourite character, and turning on the good guys. Between the menacing branches of the forest, each character sets out to fulfill their dream, and they all end up empty handed.

Into the Woods // The Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society // Moyse Hall (McGill University Arts Building, 853 Sherbrooke O) // Feb. 1-3 // 7 p.m. // $20 for general admission // $15 for students