Into The Woods

book by James Lapine
music and lyrics by Steven Sondheim
Singtel Waterfront Theatre, Singapore

What happens in a story beyond the "happily ever after"? Steven Sondheim's beloved musical mashup, with a book by James Lapine, weaves together the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk with the tale of a childless Baker and a disgruntled Witch and brings all the characters together as they gather in the titular woods. They pursue their adventures and there are ups and downs but everyone gets their happy ending. Or so they think. 

The second half swiftly upends this fairytale trope by introducing a common external threat and shows us what happens when life starts to intrude. People die. Marriages break down. Children turn against parents. As Shakespeare so tellingly reminds us, the course of true love never did run smooth. The woods have been  interpreted in countless ways over the years and I was particularly moved to see it as a dark but unifying space that turned strangers into found family.

Featuring over twenty characters, complex plots and challenging numbers, Into The Woods is an ambitious musical by any stretch and Pangdemonium truly rises to the occasion, bringing their season to a triumphant close with a production to remember. Director Tracie Pang invites us into a world that nicely melds the glittering fantasy of Disney with the darker, harsher milieu of the Brothers Grimm.

There are superlative performances all round from the ensemble cast with standout turns by Nathania Ong as Cinderella, Mina Ellen Kaye as the Witch and Benjamin Chow as the Baker, each of whom bring a tremendous empathy to their roles alongside soaring vocals that bring the house down. 

The technical team matches the performances stride for stride. Leonard Augustine Choo's exquisitely structured costumes, drawn from different time periods, are a joy to behold.  Eucien Chia's set resembles the pages of an ancient storybook brought to life, complete with rows of swaying trees flanked by towers. James Tan's lighting and Jing Ng's soundscapes flood the stage in a glorious sensory heaven. The show stretches for nearly three hours but passes like an enchanted dream. 

It would be remiss of me not to note that the Singtel Waterfront Theatre, which is more of a giant black box that can be configured in many ways, doesn't lend itself to the best acoustics for a musical. Even though I was seated just a few rows from the stage, I struggled to follow all the lyrics over the sound of the live music. Here's hoping other companies take heed.

The Crystalwords score: 4/5


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