Fairy Tales For Grown-Ups, Sondheim Style

With its twisting and turning plot and not-so-loosely veiled allegories, Into the Woods is far more than just “happily ever after”.

Columbia Musical Theater Society’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods began its Roone Arledge run last night. A mishmash of fairy tales, the musical is studded with familiar characters. Cinderella (played by Eva Peskin, BC ’09) mingles with Rapunzel (Allie Paddock, CC ’10), and Jack of Beanstalk fame (Benjamin Velez, CC ’10) encounters Little Red Riding Hood (Katie Lupica, CC ’11). Of course, a witch takes center stage, complicating the plot and adding the slice of evil that is necessary for any fairy tale. Thrown into the mix are a baker (Michael Snyder, CC ’10) and his wife (Gilli Messer, BC ’10) who are trying to conceive a child. To make it less confusing for the audience, there’s a narrator (Thomas Anawalt, CC ’09) keeping track of the plot twists for us.

Into the Woods is an incredibly ambitious show, and CMTS has lived up to the challenge. Director Hannah Kass, BC ’09, said the production has been in the works since November 2006. She and the producers cast the show in the first week of the semester, and the group has been busy rehearsing since.

“The characters in fairy tales are more archetypes than anything,” said Kass, of her affection for Into the Woods. “They [fairy tales] resonate with every audience.”

For this reason, Kass chose to keep the characters, set, and general mood of the musical universal. The set is minimalist, consisting mostly of black wooden doorways hung with white curtains. The costumes stand in stark contrast—they are vividly colorful, though unfortunately predictable.

A nine-person orchestra accompanies the cast through a staggering amount of musical numbers. The cast is clearly musically talented and their voices—individually and collectively—carry the music well. The actors wear Britney-Spears-style headsets to make their voices heard in the massive space of the auditorium, and one finds oneself wishing the production team could have found something a little less visible—the headsets are distracting and unattractive. But it’s a small complaint in exchange for being able to hear the voices of the cast: anyone who’s seen a show in Roone can testify to how it swallows noise.

Written long before that other revisionist fairy tale musical, Wicked, Into the Woods presents interesting twists on well-known and well-loved stories—and not the watered down versions, either. It is a bold undertaking for all involved and the result is impressively professional for a group of college students who, if they’re anything like the rest of us, have been balancing this with a crushing load of work.

Tickets for Into the Woods are on sale in the Lerner Box Office for $5 with CUID and $10 without CUID.

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