Fairytale comes alive
Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 02:10
Widely considered to be one of the most notable contributions to musical theater, Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods made its Brandeis debut last Thursday. Produced by the Free Play Theater Cooperative and directed by Jessie Field ’13, the seemingly lighthearted production focuses on beloved childhood fairy tales, but brings to light the twisted fate that follows the “happily ever after.”
The musical begins with the story of the baker’s wife (Jaime Perutz ’13) and the baker, who are cursed to remain childless by an evil witch. In their journey to seek an end to their wicked curse, they cross paths with the spirited Cinderella (Sarah Hines ’15), naïve Rapunzel (Alison Thvedt ’15), fearful Jack of the Beanstalk (Jeffrey Lowenstein ’15) and the charmingly innocent Little Red Riding Hood (Aliza Sotsky ’15) who learns a lesson about strangers from the cunning Wolf (Zach Smith ’15). The production is adorned with numerous other characters as well. Ultimately, the colorful cast comes together to slay the vengeful Giantess after nearly three hours of song. The storyteller, Ross Johnston ’14, enthusiastically narrates the tale throughout the production.
Perhaps taken all too literally, the production took place in Sachar Woods rather than the familiar Spingold Theater. Nestled in Sachar Woods behind the International Business School, the risky staging choice brought a sense of intimacy to the show. The audience members sat in the forest along with the cast and the orchestra pit, which managed to collectively voice the Giantess while donning scarves, hats and even snuggies. The Giantess is the common enemy that the entire cast unites against, but is never shown throughout the show.
This innovative production decision relied almost entirely on the woods themselves, but was supplemented by a small stage and tower, which was a platform placed on two tree trunks. This addition to the set proved to be all that was necessary and allowed the animated cast members to easily move throughout the stage.
Although only small additions were added in terms of production, the large cast of Into the Woods captivated and warmed up their audience, while they themselves assuredly fought off shivers. Hines added another dimension to the classic fairytale princess. Her pitch-perfect harmonies and strong acting created a dynamic and interesting character far beyond a traditional Cinderella. Similarly, Sotsky as Little Red Riding Hood perfectly exemplified the very real consequences that going into the woods entail. She created a complex character that is endearing in her youth but burdened by hardship, which contrasted well with the sinister Fox played by Smith. While attempting to allure Little Red Riding Hood, Smith flawlessly balanced humor with guile. The Baker’s Wife was incredible in her role and served as strong foundation for the show in terms of both acting and singing.
Though having the production outside certainly had its advantages, it was as a double-edged sword responsible for numerous issues in sound and lighting. Sound throughout the show was regretfully unreliable and at times many of the softer voices were entirely inaudible. When large groups were singing together, some of the stronger voices seemed to have entirely swallowed those not quite as powerful. Lighting for the entire production came from a single source behind the audience and left much to be desired. Seating was also limited to a single tarp and narrow standing space behind the lighting. This limitation was unwelcoming to latecomers, many of whom left because they didn’t want to stand throughout the show.
Yes, Into the Woods assuredly possessed some flaws in production, but all of which were no more than logistical fallouts. The production showcased some of the trademark theatrical talent on campus and was obviously well-rehearsed and planned. The setting did bring with it a touch of fantasy, but would have been much more pleasant had it been matched with a warmer temperature. In spite of this, the communal immersion did bring the audience together, as did the performance of the orchestra pit. Directed by Alex Faye ’15, the orchestra livened up the show and significantly added to the fairy-tale setting.
All in all, Into the Woods was a very intimate story, telling the tale of what it means to be happy, in our world and in theirs. Possessing the striking juxtaposition of both childhood naïveté and adulthood tragedy, Into the Woods is compelling in its humanity. It questions ideas about consequence and responsibility and redefines childhood fables. An innovative story to its core, the actors carry on Sondheim’s tradition with their similarly inspiring talent.