Fresh and Poignant: Fiasco's INTO THE WOODS at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Before I get into talking about Fiasco's production of the Sondheim classic Into The Woods - currently playing at the Menier Chocolate Factory - I have to confess to you all that this is one of my long-standing favourite musicals of all time. If you've followed me on Twitter for a while, you'll know how much I obsessed over the creation process of the Disney movie (a film which won me over). 

So I'm sure you'll understand how near and dear I hold this show to my heart. With that being said, this new production by Fiasco Theater Company at the Menier is dreamy to say the least. Not only is it totally fresh and unique in its staging and storytelling ability, but it's majestic and moving as well.

The Menier is a very small theatre so utililising the space to make the most of it is key and it's something that Fiasco managed to do perfectly. Instead of setting the show in the standard woods setting that many productions before it have done, we're greeted with a backdrop of ropes attached from floor to ceiling as well as a stray piano, random tables and chairs and ladders across the stage as well. The cast members enter the stage from the back of the auditorium and greet people as normal before announcing that Jessie Austrian - the remarkably recognisable face behind The Baker's Wife - is in fact pregnant. After the audience laughs, Noah Brody states that "you either understand the story of this show already, or you just find the idea of pregnancy very funny". The audience is told to use their imagination and forget that Austrian is in fact pregnant and it becomes an ongoing gag throughout the rest of the piece.

Noah Brody and Emily Young star as The Wolf and Little Red in Into The Woods at the Menier

This is what makes this production so successful perhaps: the fact that it's so self-aware of the multiroling and the inside jokes of the piece. You constantly feel like you're watching a show that the actors love performing and exploring every night and as an audience member who loves the piece already, it made the whole experience so much more intimate. Every new orchestration and every character quirk that was played out felt like a nod to how incredible the source material really is, so this show felt so much more like a fresh re imagining than just a simple revival.

The cast is sublime as well. The entire original off-Broadway company transfer with the show and are a true ensemble unit if there ever was one. Andy Grotelueschen plays both Milky White and Rapunzel's Prince as well as playing one of Cinderella's stepsisters and the fast changes between the three characters is so clever and quick that the joke fast becomes much more impressive than a simple cheap gag. The same goes for the women of the company who make the baby noises, or some of the men who make the noises of Cinderella's birds: this piece that once felt so big suddenly feels so much more small and personal like the woods that the story explores and it's incredible in every way possible - the story is exploring the idea of a massive and vast world feeling so much smaller when it comes down to it and the dymanics of this show demonstrate that perfectly.

"Stay With Me": Vanessa Reseland and Emily Young as The Witch and Rapunzel in Fiasco's Into The Woods

Other stand out performances come from Vanessa Reseland as the Witch who is suitably intimidating, creepy and funny all at the same time; Jessie Austrian, whose motherly and warm Baker's Wife is much more reminiscent of the (preferable) Emily Blunt in the film adaptation as opposed to the harsh Joanna Gleason with sweet vocals to match; Patrick Mulryan who just seemed like a very tall teenager throughout the piece as Jack, so loveable that you just wanted to go up and cuddle him; Ben Steinfeld and Liz Hayes as a fine Baker and Jack's Mother/Cinderella's Mother respectively, and Emily Young who gives a performance as Little Red that you can't take your eyes off of and one as Rapunzel which actually made me laugh out loud. The real standout performance for me came from Claire Karpen though who took on both Cinderella and Red's Granny. Not only was she tender and intimate, she was also bolshy and abrasive at times which made her feel so much more real and like the true relatable character of the piece, despite her ridiculous character arc that we all know. Her vocals were also stunning and it's a voice I'd happily listen to over and over again.

Claire Karpen gets her shoes and gives a standout performance as Cinderella in Into The Woods

All in all, this production of Into The Woods by Fiasco at the Menier Chocolate Factory is perhaps the best re-imagining of a piece that I have seen since City of Angels at the Donmar Warehouse. It's unique, fresh and nostalgic and is a hot ticket that really shouldn't be missed, no matter how many times you've seen the story be played out before. Into The Woods is the latest #SMMPick.

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