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Royal Northern College of Music stages  Sondheim's 'Into the Woods': RNCM Theatre Studio, Manchester,  February 16th-19th 2011 (RJF)


The Royal Northern College of Music ventures down a new path with this in the round production of Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods. Many readers will be conversant with the renowned opera productions staged by the college, most recently Bizet’s Carmen (see review) and prior to that Mozart’s last written stage work La Clemenza di Tito (see review). Whilst the college, in its major operatic productions has not shirked the lighter side of opera with the likes of Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène (see review) and Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus (see review) this venture breaks new ground.

The new ground of this production is not merely a matter of repertoire. Most significantly this new venture does not involve the whole of the School of Opera and Vocal Studies with production by Stefan Janski. Two post-graduate singers at the RNCM, Rebecca Lea and Jonathan Ainscough are directing it and this is the first student production of its kind at the College. It also differs from a standard college opera production in that it is an actor-musician production with the main characters played by students coming from all disciplines across the College, not solely singers. A versatile actor-musician ensemble drawn from across the college not only create the story and characters but also provide their own musical accompaniment. The two princes are principal study percussionists, the wolf is a post-graduate violinist and the ugly sister is a clarinettist. However, first study singers are taking many of the roles including the Baker, Baker's Wife, Cinderella and Witch. The band comprises of two violins, two cellos, flute, piccolo, two clarinets, piano, accordion, saxophone, two percussion, two French horns and recorder. The intention of the producers is to create a production in which the cast use a wide range of performance skills in a manner not dissimilar to travelling theatre troupes from earlier times. The set and production aesthetic will be in keeping with this principal and the props and costumes employed in diverse and inventive ways. A plot summary can be found on line.


For many people Sondheim (born 1930) is most famous for writing the lyrics for Bernstein’s West Side Story. In fact although he wrote lyrics for many musicals, mentored by Oscar Hammerstein he was a composer in his own right. Using his own lyrics he set Into the Woods. It debuted at the Old Globe Theatre, San Diego in 1986, and premiered on Broadway in 1987. Bernadette Peters' performance as the Witch and Joanna Gleason's portrayal of the Baker's Wife brought acclaim to the production during its original Broadway run. Into the Woods won several Tony Awards, including Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical; this in a year dominated by The Phantom of the Opera! It has been produced many times, with a 1988 USA national tour, a 1990UK West End production, a 1991 television production, a 1997 tenth anniversary concert, a 2002 Los Angeles production and a 2002 Broadway revival. It was played at the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House, London in 2007.


Into the Woods intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and follows them further to explore the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests. The main characters are taken from the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella, tied together by a more original story involving a baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family, most likely taken from the original story of Rapunzel by the Brothers Grimm.


The production will be presented in the RNCM Studio Theatre from 16th-19th February, at 7.30pm. Tickets, £10, are available from the box office, Tel 0161 907 5555 and

Robert J Farr



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