"Chris Wilson and I would often muse about dream casting our favourite shows and Into The Woods would come up a lot," says Ryan Kelly. "I've had the entire score memorized since I was a teenager. This was an idea that was a lot of fun, and when we had a pocket of time where we were all available, we made it happen!"
Kelly is performing in a stage reading - actually a staged singing and maybe a little bit of dancing - of Into The Woods presented as a benefit by the theatre company "Beyond Boundaries, which is Chris Wilson's not for profit production company that he uses to create performances in order raise money for charities and other venues. When we went to Off Broadway with Living With Henry, Beyond Boundaries was the production company at the helm."
Dream casting works, "The role of the Baker is one of my dream roles. I'm really glad it's come to me now, at this stage in life, rather than earlier. There are deep themes about parents and children, what we pass down through generations, what we choose to keep or throw away. I'm getting to a chapter in life of turning over, saying goodbye, healing and perhaps renewal. The Baker meets his rock bottom but keeps going. Not because he has the answers, but because that's what one does. One must keep going."
The same life theory applies to performing, "I really enjoy a staged reading. There is a spontaneity that goes along with it, and the feeling like a roller coaster without brakes. The night flies along for the performers. I think with a show like this, and by doing a reading, the performers have an advantage to really work the lyrics of the songs. No need to worry about certain technicalities, or staging. Just look in the book, ignite your heart, open your mouth and sing."
Kelly's theatre background is extensive, ranging from the original North American cast of Mamma Mia to Sky Gilbert's Dancing Queen to Gash. "I started my career in musical theatre and have always gone back to it between my independent and film/television gigs. I enjoy the frivolity of musicals, but I also find I relate to the form in a very deep way. Music can sometimes touch people in deeper ways than just words. As much as Living with Henry and The Normal Heart were heavy, they were still really fun to do. I will always get a thrill when an opportunity arises to be in a room filled with people and open myself up to them. It's exciting and scary, no matter what the tone or subject matter. That said, I really have been enjoying this stretch of music theatre that has come my way. It's a joyful medium."
Kelly is working with an equally accomplished group of woods-goers, including Stephanie Roth, Anwyn Musico, Dale Miller and Christopher Wilson as the Narrator/Mysterious Man. And a community favourite more known for her pop chops. "Dana Jean Phoenix plays one of the stepsisters and she also voices the Giant's Wife. She's quite incredible. All that voice coming out of that tiny woman. The range of her talent is incredible. The entire cast is packed with professional, passionate and talented musicians. Every person brings something special to the piece, and is taking it very seriously. The pressure of a one night only experience brings a whole different vibrant energy to any show."
Of course there is, at the moment, a competing version of Into the Woods available for consumption, "I'm certainly not nervous about being compared to the movie, but I am nervous about the performance! It's a weighty role, and many people have an idea of how it should be played. I really want to do it well. But maybe I'm lucky that my big song "No More" was cut from the
movie, nothing to compare me to. I think the movie was great, but the live version has so many more layers to the story. It goes deeper."
And, while there won't be popcorn or a liquor license, this version has an ideal environment for Kelly's musical needs, "I love Sondheim and I love how precise it has to be. As a perfectionist, I'm pretty specific and well, you can never beat the acoustics in a church. Chris has had a relationship with Metropolitan Community Church for a long time, and one of the two charities that we are raising money for is run by the MCC itself. The other is the AIDS Committee of Toronto. They are letting us use the church rather than rent a venue. Plus it can hold a lot of people. We hope a lot of people come."
Into the Woods is on Sat, Jan 17 at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, 115 Simpson Ave. mcctoronto.com