Into the Woods

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

05/08/2017 - 26/08/2017

Production Details

Mark Dorrell will join Artistic Director Jonathon Hendry, as Musical Director for the Fortune Theatre’s latest musical production.

Fortune is thrilled to welcome acclaimed Musical Director Mark Dorrell to Dunedin as the theatre stages its next production, INTO THE WOODS. Dorrell brings with him a wealth of knowledge from his highly successful career on London’s West End where he not only worked alongside the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Hugh Jackman and Sir Ian McKellan, but with Stephen Sondheim himself on the European premiere of Into The Woods in 1991. Dorrell has since worked on many Sondheim musicals, including productions of Into The Woods in Bermuda and Wellington, the latter with Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. 

For over 25 years, this Tony Award-winning musical has been delighting audiences of all ages following its premiere on Broadway in 1987. It has since been staged to critical acclaim across the world and was transformed into a Golden Globe-winning film in 2014 starring a host of A list celebrities including Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and James Corden.

Brimming with magical moments, this is not exactly the fairytale you will remember. A baker and his wife learn they’ve been cursed with childlessness by the witch next door; as they embark on their quest to break the spell they soon discover the perils of ‘happily ever after’ and what really happens when you get everything you wish for. They’re joined by Cinderella and her Prince, Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf, Rapunzel, The Witch, Jack and the Beanstalk and a host of other charming characters, as their worlds collide in this masterfully deconstructed musical fairytale.

This funny, poignant and wildly imaginative journey is sure to delight and captivate both  young and old.  

Audiences will recognise some familiar faces from the first production in Fortune’s Company Season, Twelfth Night. Consisting of seven actors, the Fortune Company will spend a total of three months in Dunedin, as they perform back to back in Twelfth Night and Into The Woods. All seven are showcasing their extraordinary talent and versatility in the Bard’s beloved comedy and now in Stephen Sondheim’s spellbinding musical.

The company will be joined by actors from across New Zealand, with the complete cast of Into the Woods totalling 17 members, the largest cast on the Fortune stage for over a decade. 

Frith Horan  Giant, Granny
Cherie Moore  Stepmother, Cinderella's Mother
Jonathan Martin  Baker
Peter Hayden  Narrator, Mysterious Man
Julie Edwards  Jack's Mother
Bryony Skillington  Witch
Joshua Crammond  Wolf, Milky White, Cinderella's Father
Kelly Hocking Baker's Wife
Awhimai Fraser Cinderella
Sophie Morris Rapunzel
Joe Witkowski Cinderella's Prince
Max Beal Rapunzel's Prince
Nic Laughton Jack
Rose Pickard Red Riding Hood
Bryn Monk Steward
Summer Millet Florinda
Sophie Wright


Director Jonathon Hendry
Musical Director Mark Dorrell
Stage Manager Erica Browne
Choreographer Jessica Latton
Dance Captain Awhimai Fraser
AV Design Jon Wilson
Costume Design Maryanne Wright-Smyth
Lighting Design Garry Keirle 
Makeup Design George Wallace
Set Design Peter King
Set Build Shannon van Roojien
  Jacob Medary
Sound Design Lindsay Gordon
Properties Master George Wallace
Operator Anna van den Bosch

Theatre , Musical ,

Uniformly dazzling

Review by Terry MacTavish 06th Aug 2017

“World class theatre!” trumpets the Fortune with totally justifiable pride, as it musters seventeen stars and potential stars to work with Jonathon Hendry and Mark W Dorrell on Stephen Sondheim’s enduring classic born of his own turbulent childhood.  Fairy tales are far more than bedtime stories for children: they allow us to plunge into our psyches, our inheritance from the past, the troubling relationship with our parents and the exciting and scary trip that is adolescence. 

In the first act, Into the Woods explores what happens when the characters from various stories collide, and then the astonishing second act twists the happy-ever-after endings to see the results of getting what you wish for. The caustic lines and sparkling music are usually performed by a smallish ensemble, doubling and trebling roles, but the Fortune has gone all out with its full cast, accompanied by Dorrell, making for the most thrilling swell of music reverberating around the theatre and sweeping the audience along on an unforgettable journey.

Musical Director Dorrell has most impressive credentials, having worked with the world’s finest (with Judi Dench, yet! In A Little Night Music! Of all her roles the one she would most love to play again!). He and Hendry have brought out the absolute best in performers who are palpably tiptoe with excitement at performing under confident direction in one of the world’s great musicals, and they are consequently uniformly dazzling. 

I doubt the Fortune could have reached this remarkable standard in so short a time if the core cast had not been working as a company, simultaneously rehearsing Woods and performing a dynamic Twelfth Night, growing to trust and value each other. Now they have a chance to pass their experience on to the next generation (echoing the themes of the musical), joined as they are by exceptionally talented young bloods from Dunedin as well as Toi Whakaari.

The dream cast is headed by Bryony Skillington in a stupendous performance as the Witch who starts the Baker and his Wife on their dangerous quest with her demand for the ingredients for her spell: the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold.  My expectations of Skillington were sky-high after her riveting, original portrayal of Feste in Twelfth Night, but I need not have feared disappointment. She is one of New Zealand’s most spell-binding actors all right, with a power on stage that stuns the audience and ensures we overlook any inconsistencies in the storyline.

Skillington’s great comic timing, as she threatens those who mess with her greens (especially the beans), means she is as funny as she is frightening. It is the poignancy of her relationship with her adopted daughter that brings a lump to the throat however. ‘Our Little World’, her duet with Rapunzel (songbird Sophie Morris, sweet in heavenly blue) is a highlight for me, expressing all the heartache of parents who try in vain to hold onto their children.

The Baker, Jonathan Martin, is another who impressed in Twelfth Night, as idiotic Sir Andrew.  Here he is all sincerity, showing his versatility in an interpretation of depth and feeling, which makes the conclusion to his particular story quite touching. As Baker’s Wife, Kelly Hocking is warm and feisty and humorous, especially in her little moment of marital transgression, knowing just how to connect with her audience.

Awhimai Fraser is truly luminous as Cinderella, tender, sensitive and ultimately courageous.  Her performance, together with that of the Witch and the Bakers, may well be the reason this production glows with heart as much as fun. And they can all really sing as well as act!

Cherie Moore as the Wicked Stepmother demonstrates with élan, just as she did as Olivia in Twelfth Night, that she can really rock a sophisticated frock as well as she does a song, her daughters (Sophie Wright and Summer Millet) providing her with nicely stylised foils. The three combine for some exquisite movement effects.

Little Red is the delightfully cute and confident young Rose Pickard, just embarking on her theatre career but holding her own like a seasoned trouper. She is fortunate, of course, to have the experienced support of Twelfth Night’s Viola, the delicious Frith Horan, who brings Granny to vigorous life, twice. The Wolf doesn’t stand a chance.

Joshua Cramond, last seen as a trouserless Duke, makes a dashing Wolf, his seductive song to tough Little Red an uncomfortable reminder of Maurice Chevalier’s ‘Thank Heaven for Little Girls’ in Gigi, but it is as a hilariously goofy Cow that he is really irresistible.  His master, Jack, is played by another fine actor amazingly still at school, Nic Laughton, who displays a most engaging sense of humour.

A trio of spirited young men bring an energising virility to the stage, Bryn Monk as a stately but rather nasty Steward, and handsome princes Joe Witkowski and Max Beal ravishing us with their brilliant, extremely funny rendition of ‘Agony!’  I enjoy the latter two in the sardonically witty second half also, when the princes find marriage and happy-ever-after with the same old princess isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

And then there are the richly experienced professionals, Julie Edwards as Jack’s mum bringing, as she does to every role she undertakes, one of the most engaging stage personalities you will ever see, and Peter Hayden of the velvet voice, just perfect for both all-knowing Narrator and the mystery character.

The production is so fast-paced and entertaining, with constant musical accompaniment beautifully executed by Dorrell, that you barely notice it is quite long.  The often tongue-in-cheek songs are delivered with clarity and understanding, from the wistful ‘No one is alone’ to the amusingly ridiculous ‘Your fault’. Jessica Latton, charismatic yoga teacher and co-founder of Ake Ake Theatre Company, has choreographed dynamic dance to complement the catchy choruses, flooding the stage with furious, frenzied movement, broken by heart-stopping moments of stillness.

The Fortune’s technical team have surpassed themselves. Maryanne Wright-Smyth designs splendid costumes, picture-book Russian with a modern twist that has the Witch transform into corset and feathers. The pretty costumes are complemented by imaginative make-up designed by George Wallace, who is also responsible for the moody photography. 

Peter King’s set is simple enough to take projected pictures of the fairy-tale world, but full of intriguing little windows and interesting angles, with a cunning central opening that allows for an ingenious ending for Red’s Wolf. Stage Manager Erica Browne must be busy! 

The animation design itself, by clever students from Otago Polytechnic, makes for charming effects reminiscent of the delicate shadow puppetry of Lotte Reiniger, such as the fluttering birds and the collapsing trees as the world is attacked by a vengeful giant.

The lighting, designed by Garry Keirle, combined with sound effects by Lindsay Gordon, enhances the spooky magical feel, the ghosts of the past making a particularly lovely appearance for the finale. 

And what a finale: all the singers in a rousing chorus reminding us that if only we are ready to risk its dangers, everything we learn in the woods will help us on our return. The message of the play is clear, and Sondheim must have slain many of his own giants in the creation. As he says, we move beyond youthful idealised notions and realise happiness involves a lot of problems: “…that’s not an unhappy ending, just a more informed sense of happy, a happiness that’s been earned”. 

Dunedin is an odd city, practically one quarter lively young University students, but with an older establishment currently fretting because the brooding statue of one of our revered Presbyterian founders now grimly faces a brothel. Our only fully professional theatre has always struggled to bring the factions together to appreciate what theatre has to offer by way of enriching our lives. Into the Woods has earned the Fortune a real chance to do so, with a truly entrancing production of a great musical that has captivated the world for thirty years. All Dunedin, young and old, should be rushing into these woods – like Little Red, you’ll be changed, but in a good way! 


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