Little Red Riding Hood is a cheeky little rebel; silly Jack is very much attached to his cow; Cinderella's stepmother is a nasty piece of work and Rapunzel's yellow hair is long enough to strangle a palace-full of princes.
To begin with the surprises in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods are more to do with finding all these characters in the same story than anything different about them as individuals. But then the plot takes off and nothing is predictable, especially when a happy ending is reached by the interval. What more can happen? The neat endings unravel: Cinderella's Prince is unfaithful, the wife of the giant despatched by Jack comes seeking revenge, and death and disappointment mingle with happy ever after. Morals proliferate: be grateful for what you have, don't envy others, be loyal, learn to work together for the general good. So it's just as well the music and lyrics are full of wit and humour.
The National Youth Music Theatre get every ounce of fun out of their production, attacking the often-difficult score with such sophistication and humour, such sweet voices and subtle acting that it is difficult to believe that few of them are out of their teens and the youngest is only 15.
The performances at the Wimbledon Theatre at the end of August were the last for now, but the production will be revived, possibly next year.
The NYMT's next project is The Ballad of Salomon Pavey which will open the Globe's education season on October 2 and 3. The even younger cast will tell the story of a company of boy actors in Shakespeare's day with the help of Elizabethan songs and music. (Tickets: 0171 401 9919) The NYMT is a spectacularly successful company but it is in dire financial straits. Andrew Lloyd Webber has given generously, but a new sponsor is urgently needed for the new year. Sir Cameron Mackintosh, perhaps? This company, more than any other, feeds into professional musical theatre in this country, so it would be fitting if its other most successful exponent might hear the cries for help.
But for now it is business as usual, and the next round of auditions for actor-singers and instrumentalists, and interviews for backstage staff will take place in October. Applicants need to be between 11 and 19 on January 1, 2000; musicians must be at least grade 7 standard. Enthusiasm rather than experience is the premier requirement.
Everyone who returns a completed form before the closing date (September 29) will be invited to attend a first round audition, and actors will take part in a two-hour workshop with about 14 others.
For information about this and about the weekend "Stages" workshop courses, call 0171 734 7478.
Singers in choirs are also invited to enter the Sainsbury's Choir of the Year 2000 competition by December 10. As well as the established categories, there is a new one for children's choirs this year. Each category winner receives pound;2,000 and thefinals will be broadcast over Christmas 2000. Forinformation and application forms, call 0171 221 7883.
And if all you do is listen, that too can be put to good purpose. The Allegri String Quartet is to hold a concert in aid of the children of Kosovo on September 26 at St John's Smith Square in London. Haydn, Smetana and Schubert are on the programme.Tickets: 0171 222 1061.
It would have been Roald Dahl's 83rd birthday this week and Nuffield Theatre Education is celebrating by adding an adaptation of The BFG to its Hampshire tour of Macbeth and Antigone. Tickets: 01703 671771.
Kes, the 30-year-old film of Barry Hines' popular set book, A Kestrel for a Knave, is to be re-released on October 1. Ken Loach's film about the boy who seeks solace in falconry, owed some of its convincing detail to the fact that many teachers and ex-teachers were involved in the production. Even the late Brian Glover - who played the sadistic sports master - was once an English teacher (as well as a wrestler) and Colin Welland (Mr Farthing) had spent four years as an art teacher. The school principal was played by real-life headmaster Robert Bowes and the extras were pupils at St Helen's School in Barnsley. A good opportunity to compare secondary school mores then and now.