After sitting enraptured for three and a half hours during last Monday night’s performance of Into The Woods, (a one-off one night only concert performed by the cast of Wicked), I tried to remember when something like this had been attempted in the past; ie – a full scale performance of a music theatre work performed by a resident company who are already performing another musical eight shows a week at the same venue.
I could count the incidents on one hand, some may remember others. To my memory, the Phantom cast performed a semi staged version of Light In The Piazza a couple of years ago while in residence in Sydney, John Diedrich lead the cast of Chciago (the original revival, not the most recent one) in a one night production of Zorba. I seem to remember a couple in Melbourne, but cant remember the details and many years ago again Mr Diedrich took the cast of Oklahoma into a performance of the much neglected musical Minnie’s Boys.
I mention all this, because asking a group of actors whose professional lives are already deeply committed to a long running show, to give up all their time to also rehearse a separate musical while still performing the in-house musical eight shows a week, as well as understudy and refresher daytime rehearsals, is, to put it mildly – a big ask.
This has been asked of the cast of Wicked and most of the cast gave up their time willingly, as the charity that would benefit from the production is one close to their hearts; the Rob Guest Endowment Foundation.
After the sudden death of Rob Guest, OBE, in October 2008, and in recognition of his achievements in the musical theatre industry, ANZ and ANZ Trustees established a memorial fund in his honour to help emerging young performers in musical theatre.
The ANZ Trustees Foundation: ANZ Rob Guest Endowment will be awarded each year to an emerging musical theatre performer selected by a panel of industry experts. The Award will provide the emerging performer with further knowledge and training in the industry to develop their potential.
The Into the Woods evening was used to launch the endowment awards for this year and Rob’s life partner (and musical director ofWicked and Woods) Kellie Dickerson made an emotional speech at the top of the night to remind all budding young music theatre performers that the 2010 competition is now open.
So for the cast of Into the Woods, the time and effort they gave to the production not only gave many of the hidden lights within theWicked company a chance to shine, but also gave them the opportunity to pay tribute to their late and much loved cast member.
All these factors usually fuel a pretty extraordinary night in the theatre andWoods proved to be just that. Nights like this are very very rare and from the moment MC Bert Newton arrived on stage to host the evening (with his usual glorious professional aplomb) it was clear the night was going to be exciting and magical.
Directed by resident director of Wicked, Kris Stewart, musically directed by the aforementioned kellie Dickerson with choreography by cast member James Maxfield, this was a night that will be long remembered in the annals of local music theatre history. Using parts of the Wicked set with ingenious lighting effects, the company craftily created a special magic on stage, no limited staged reading here, this was the real deal and it proved to be one of the best renditions of this Stephen Sondheim classic I have seen.
Stewart cast the show with a clear knowledge of the abilities of his company, sometimes two actors shared one role, in other instances one actor carried the role all night. As is the way with a production such as this, some of the cast were a little young for their roles, but the clever approach never made the work feel like a college production of a musical; For instance the Witch usually played by an older musical diva (Bernadette Peters, Judi Connelli, Vanessa Williams among others in the past) was inhabited by youtful Zoe Gertz (an ensemble member and regular Elphaba cover) and she made her youthful spunkiness and natural comic ability work superbly for the role.
Similarly the Baker’s Wife was carried all night by another cover/ensemble member in Johanna Allen who gave a rich, mature and detailed performance. Others who carried a role all night included Rob Mills as a hilarious Cinderella’s prince, Ryan Sheppard a wickedly comic narrator and Ellen Simpson as a suitably fiery Jack’s Mother.
Lucy Durack (with absolutely no Glindafacations) and Liz Stiles shared Cinderella with great style and Christina Tan and Romina Villafranca were suitably garralous Little Red Riding Hoods. The pivotol role of the Baker was very safe in the hands of Matthew Hamilton and Anthony Costanzo and Jack was delightfully pre pubescent as played by Ross Hannaford and James Smith. Key roles were also well played by Nathan Carter as the Old Man and Erin Hasan as a screamingly hilarious Rapunzel.
In fact the whole company rose to great heights, allowing this most magnificent work to shine and glow in a superbly textured, utterly beguiling night of theatre.
At the end of the show the Baker’s wife utters the lyrics which are the centrepiece of Into the Woods and they were words highlighted by Kellie Dickerson at the beginning of the night, as they were so true of the life (and sudden death) of Rob Guest and all that his remarkable legacy now leaves the music theatre community; “sometimes people leave you, half way through the woods, do not let it grieve you, no one leaves for good”.
It was simply an incredible night that will long be remembered by those lucky to be in attendance.