Jenna Russell in Into the Woods
(© Catherine Ashmore)
Jenna Russell in Into the Woods
(© Catherine Ashmore)
Timothy Sheader's production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods has officially opened at Regent's Park's Open Air Theatre. The production, which has choreography by Liam Steel, will continue through September 11.

The company features Hannah Waddington (The Witch), Jenna Russell (The Baker's Wife), Helen Dallimore (Cinderella), Michael Xavier (Cinderella's Prince/The Wolf), Mark Hadfield (The Baker), Beverly Rudd (Little Red Riding Hood), Ben Stott (Jack), Valda Aviks (Granny), Billy Boyle (Mysterious Man), Gay Brown (Cinderella Stepmother), Alice Fearn (Rapunzel), Amy Griffiths (Lucinda), Mark Goldthorp (Steward), Amy Ellen Richarson (Florinda), Simon Thomas (Rapunzel's Prince), Gemma Wardle (Cinderalla's Mother), Marc Antolin (Swing), and Sophie Caton (Swing).

The creative team will include Soutra Gimour (production design), Jon Clark (lighting design) and Mike Walker (sound design).

Initial reviews are in and have glowing things to say about Sheader's reimagination of the role of the narrator and the physical production. The ensemble is also being warmly received.

Among the reviews are:

Daily Telegraph
Into the Woods, Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, review
"It is an inspired idea to stage this show in the magical, sylvan surroundings of Regent's Park, and designer Soutra Gilmour has come up with a marvellously rickety, adventure playground of a set, all ladders, stairs and elevated walkways, with Rapunzel discovered high up in a tree. I also liked the idea of having the narrator played by a small boy, who has run away to the woods after a family row, and seems to be dreaming the entire show."

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"The cast is outstanding however. Mark Hadfield and Jenna Russell are both deeply touching as the Baker and his wife, yearning for a child; Beverly Rudd is a chunky, spunky Little Red Riding Hood who is deflowered as well as devoured by the wolf...There's great work too from Hannah Waddingham, initially unrecognisable as the withered witch with twigs for arms before her transformation into a dangerous, voluptuous vamp."

Evening Standard
Go down Into the Woods but be prepared to leave with mixed feelings
"There are redeemingly strong performances. Although Hannah Waddingham's sassiness is underexploited, she's a potent presence, and Jenna Russell is achingly precise, while Michael Xavier's wolf is priapic and exciting. Yet as much as the big numbers resound, there are flat and bloodless passages."

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"A consistent strength is Soutra Gilmour's design. It resembles a massive climbing frame - all stairways and narrow platforms - and exploits the nocturnal charms of the Regent's Park setting, especially when the Giant (voiced by Judi Dench) judders into view."

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"Sondheim fans will bridle at the charge, but it strikes me that Into the Woods - here running three hours - contains too many songs, too many of which are underdeveloped. It's declamatory where it needs to be dramatic. Musically and texturally uneven, this is a show that oscillates between excellence and mediocrity."

The Stage
Into the Woods
"...the most satisfying and revelatory version of this show I've seen since Richard Jones' brilliant London staging in 1990."

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"Timothy Sheader, co-directing with movement director Liam Steel, gives it a dream of a production, literally so - the show is conjured as a child's fantasy, with the narrator turned into a little boy playing it out in his head."

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"The stunning ensemble cast is one of the finest in town, with Hannah Waddingham - one of the most glamorous of all of London's leading ladies - counter-intuitively turned into its initially most hideous as the Witch, while Jenna Russell continues to mine a heartbreaking sincerity.

"There are also striking contributions from, amongst others, Hellen Dallimore as Cinderella and Michael Xavier as her prince, Mark Hadfield as the Baker, and Ben Stott and Marilyn Cutts as Jack and his mother."

Whatsonstage.com
Into the Woods
"Director Timothy Sheader and Musical Director Gareth Valentine have conjured a magical production which mixes playfulness with irony and just enough sentiment to bring a tear or two in the finale, "Children Will Listen". The ensemble numbers, especially "Into the Woods" and "Ever After", suggest that this is a company having a woodland ball."

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"Jenna Russell invests the Baker's Wife with strength and maternal longing and sings like a dream, while Hannah Waddingham, statuesque and commanding when revealed as glamorous after all, is simply stunning as the Witch. She can belt out a song when she needs to, but she can also be subtle and craftily funny."