Musical goes Into the Woods

Queen’s Musical Theatre mounts dark fairy tale; production requires ‘two gallons of blood a night’

The 17-member ensemble cast of Into the Woods includes fairy tale characters Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella.
The 17-member ensemble cast of Into the Woods includes fairy tale characters Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella.

Once upon a time, there was a musical.

With their upcoming January production, Queen’s Musical Theatre has chosen to delve into that mystical world of fairy tales with . Featuring characters such as Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Cinderella, it’s as if the musical just walked out of your childhood nostalgia—while doing some growing up along the way.

“It’s often disturbing, often hilarious,” said director Michael Murphy, ArtSci ’07, the director of . It’s a show that he says is about “impossible choices and unrequited dreams.”

The two-act story begins with an introduction of many well-known fairy tale characters who move through their familiar stories. In the second act, their selfish decisions have unexpected, terrible and violent consequences, resulting in a production full of suspense, anticipation, and a little loss of appetite.

Originally produced in 1986, this beloved Paul Sondheim musical has been staged several times—but to Murphy, the attraction was simple.

“I saw it a couple years ago and it stayed with me,” Murphy said. “To direct a show, you have to live with it for over a year, from the initial idea to the proposal stage.”

“Because my background comes from directing straight plays, I was attracted because it offers that musical component—yet without the music, it can still be an entertaining production,” he said. “The elements can survive independent of each other, yet they assert each other in the shows.”

Rob Kempson, ArtSci ’06, said that his participation in this show—his sixth with QMT—stemmed directly from his love for the musical. Kempson was cast as the Baker, whose quest to start a family with the Baker’s Wife links the characters together.

“I’ve done a lot of work in the club—and I was trying to convince myself not to audition, but because the show was , I had to.”

Kristin Rodgerson, ArtSci ’08, who plays The Witch, “was first attracted to because I’m attracted to interesting characters, and had a lot to offer.”

Sitting through humourous digressions with Murphy, Kempson and Rodgerson in a stuffy, Goodes Hall meeting room, the last thing on my mind was dark subtext. However, Murphy considers this aspect of paramount.

“I’ve seen done where they’ve glossed over the dark elements. If anything, I’ve tried to enhance and draw focus to these aspects of the show that nobody wants to talk about.”

To put it in simpler terms: “We’re probably going to be going through two gallons of blood a night.”

But much to my disappointment, I was assured there would be no splash zone.

“The darker elements are what’s exciting about the show,” Kempson said, “yet it’s not pervasive to the extent of annoyance.”

With such significance placed on the morose aspects of the play—including difficult familial situations—there doesn’t seem to be much room for light-heartedness. Yet in reality, the show is quite funny.

“We’ve tried to create a cohesive production where we combine these dark elements smoothly into the show,” Murphy said.

“One of my favourite things to do is string the audience along in a pattern where I can make them comfortable with laughing, then scold them for laughing,” he said. You always have to keep an audience on its toes.”

“There are a lot of levels of appreciation in this production,” Kempson said. “Coming from a family that isn’t theatre-oriented, I think this show has a lot of areas that people can access. There’s concepts that anyone can engage with, not only those involved in theatre practices.”

To Kempson, one of the best aspects of this year’s production has been the 17-member ensemble cast.

“There’s a lot of work and professional respect going around,” Kempson said. “We really have an interesting chemistry … The more comfortable you feel with the cast, the more truthful and honest you are with each other, the more it will be reflected.”

“We took a risk,” Murphy said. “We cast a lot of people in major roles, a position they’ve never been in, and it has paid in dividends.”

Great performances, dark themes, gore and a bit of comedy will make this beloved production go right, but Murphy is fully aware of what they’ve set out to achieve.

“It’s going to shake people at their core,” he said. “It’s going to challenge their conceptions of what you can explore in musical theatre.”

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