My journalism career started officially 35 years ago (eee-gad!) at the Kingston Whig Standard. Owned by the Davies family (Robertson and Arthur) it was a respected daily newspaper and a pillar in the political, cultural, medical, and university communities.

After awhile in general news, I was assigned as the Arts, Culture, Entertainment writer. A beat. To develop. This was not taken lightly in Kingston in the 60’s. I could write a couple of columns on interesting entertainment I’ve covered, like the Irish Rovers’ first Canadian appearance, and Victor Borge’s last... I digress.

When I moved to Barrie to become the editor of The Banner, arts and culture was right up there with hockey, planning board, city hall and board of education. I covered it all.

So in my time I’ve written enough reviews of live theatre, concerts, art shows, and movies to fill several scrapbooks.

Since moving into self employment in 1978, my fingers have itched only twice to write a review ... once when Natalie McMaster performed through Gryphon Theatre. The other was Thursday night when I attended the opening of Into The Woods, the third production of the 37th season of South Simcoe Theatre, or SST.

SST--where’s that? It’s tucked into a renovated old hall on Hamilton St in Cookstown and while the loving volunteers at SST have applied for grants and plied their own energy into rejuvenating the old building, it was a different kind of energy that grabbed a healthy house for this slick, funny, clever, light-and-dark interpretation of life’s fairy tale.

Into The Woods, book by James Lapine, is a production whose words and lyrics were written by Steven Sondheim. This is a production unrivalled by anything I’ve seen in a long time. There isn’t one weak part of the 150 minutes you’ll spend sitting on hand made cushions that grace the wooden seats of this wonderful old hall.

Set ‘in the woods,’ the stage is cleverly transformed and moves easily from one scene to another thanks to the ingenuity of set designer Christina Luck. It’s a terrific set, in every way. To single out any one performer is impossible, really, though my friend and I had a long discussion about who we most enjoyed. We decided that Amylee Patterson should take a deep bow. As a witch on the outside who becomes beautiful, but still a witch on the inside, she brings witchery to a new level. Amylee is equally talented as a temptress in other SST productions.

This is worth seeing. Its message is strong; its movement light; its presentation completely professional.

And here’s the best part. Excepting Director Scott Hurst (who belongs in his own limelight), every single member of this cast and crew and band (yes! live music! directed by Greg Gibson) has a day job. This is fabulous talent, hidden away in classrooms, behind ski desks, serving coffee, selling real estate, working ordinary jobs as ordinary people. And yet, this troupe put on a show as professional as you could find anywhere.

This is a huge cast for a live production, made possible by the volunteer efforts of everyone involved. Thirty-five talented people have been rehearsing, designing, painting, blocking, memorizing, and bringing to life a wonderful story. Thirty-five people.

Into The Woods runs Thursdays through Sundays (with matinees, too) until Mother’s Day. Four weekends, if you include this one. This is the time to call that person you’ve been wanting to see and book a couple of seats for one terrific show. You can order by phone (458-4432) or take your chances at the box office a few minutes before the 8 pm showtime. Or, email the wonderful box office volunteer, Candy Pryce, at cjpryce@rogers.com. Ticket prices are a bargain.

You won’t regret it. I promise.

Thanks, Scott. Thanks for taking Lapine’s and Sondheim’s product and giving it this incredible life right here in our region. And thanks to the entire group for giving so much of their time to make it happen.

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