For me, the scene for the UBC Musical Theatre Troupe’s Into the Woods was set long before the curtains rose. Brushing unexpected April hail off my shoulder as I walked into the Frederic Wood Theatre for the Midnights showing, I felt like I was entering a fairy tale—or perhaps a late April Fools joke. When the lights dimmed, a silence settled over the crowd, all of us bound by the promise of the theatre: a place where, like the titular Woods, anything can happen if you listen, and nobody leaves unscathed.
Adapted from Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Broadway musical, Into the Woods features a disparate cast of familiar fairy tale characters who all wish for something. Cinderella longs to attend a ball, while the bakers want a child. When they venture into the Woods to realize their desires, their paths intersect in hilarious and devastating ways.
The original musical adapts the tales to modern tropes: Cinderella isn’t overly impressed with the Prince and his stalker-ish obsession with her, Little Red has an introspective moment where she realizes nice people aren’t always good. A modern response to the question, ‘What happens after happily ever after?’, the play shows that magically-won satisfaction doesn’t always stick, and dues are owed for the gifts you gain in the Woods.
There’s much to love about the UBC Musical Theatre Troupe’s performance. Full of comedic moments, the show amused both adults and children, though perhaps on different levels. I particularly enjoyed the running jokes involving Jack’s cow, Milky White. Kids giggled at her martial arts antics (energetically played by Liam Su), while adults laughed at Su’s woeful expression as he squeezed his chest in a futile attempt to produce milk.
The music was also fantastic, from the singers’ staggering vocal ranges to the live orchestra’s skilful guidance of the audience’s emotions. I was especially struck by Emily Hallam’s powerful performance in “Last Midnight”— her presence commanded our rapt attention as she conveyed the last blazing moments of the bitter righteous Witch who lost her magic, but not her power.
In addition, although superficially farcical, the mother-daughter relationship between the Witch and Rapunzel (played by Lauren Coulson) felt achingly authentic. While locking one’s child in a tower and blinding potential suitors may be taking it a tad far, I understood the anxieties underlying the Witch’s actions: the drive to protect her child above all, the raw fear of being left by the one she loves most.
Not everything resonated with me. Some characters’ sudden, ridiculous deaths and miraculous resurrections diminished the emotional impacts of other characters’ deaths (I kept waiting for them to bounce up unharmed).
Generally though, I enjoyed the play’s portrayal of the Woods as a liminal, morally-ambiguous space where everyday life’s rules are suspended, and people’s true colours arise. With plenty of humour and music, the play whisked us into the Woods, where anything can happen, and wishes may be granted — but never freely.
An earlier version of this article misstated Lauren Coulson's name as Laura Colson. It was corrected on April 8, 3:33 am. The Ubyssey regrets this error.