In IPFW’s production of “Into the Woods,” Cinderella meets her prince, Jack gets his magic beans and Rapunzel gets her freedom from the tower, but that’s only the first act.
“The first act ends with ‘They all lived happily ever after, … to be continued,’ ” director Craig Humphrey says with a laugh. “Act 2 is really about paying consequences. Things have to be sacrificed in the name of granting wishes.”
IPFW’s theater department concludes its season with the performance, which is an ambitious musical that rips out narratives from the Brothers Grimm’s most popular fairy tales and places them on the stage. An ensemble cast of characters, like Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Jack (known for his beanstalk), are weaved into an original story about a childless baker and his wife who must go on a journey to break the witch’s curse and finally have children.
Although child-like in appearance, the musical is a relevant story that focuses on relationships, desires and consequences.
IPFW junior Halee Bandt plays the witch, who is responsible for both the Baker’s curse and trapping Rapunzel. She says that “Into the Woods” is one production that most students in the theater department have been looking forward to this season.
“It’s got comedic parts and the show-stopping numbers, but at the same time, it has a very important story and message that runs through every character’s journey,” she says. “I think that combination makes it a show that a lot of people want to do. It has a really good balance.”
Written by James Lapine, and music and lyrics by Steven Sondheim, the musical premiered on Broadway in 1987. Sondheim, the renowned songwriter behind “West Side Story,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Gypsy,” created a vocally challenging soundtrack that exemplifies his way of seamlessly merging conversational lyrics and music. The production won 10 Tony awards in 1988, including best book of a musical and best original score.
The production has been revived on Broadway twice, and Disney is producing a film adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp that will be released this year.
Confident in his cast, Humphrey says this will be the first time he will revisit the play since 1998. This time around, he says he wanted to investigate the darker side of Act 2.
“For the students, it poses a lot of acting challenges in terms of making these fairy tale characters more than two-dimensional, and making them characters we care about and connect with,” he says.
“The play investigates the whole idea of parent-child relationships and the idea of community responsibility. As our world gets smaller every day, we are no longer isolated communities. Incidences here and there can have repercussions that are beyond anyone’s imagination, and I think the show really addresses that.”
Bandt says that while it may be easy to see the witch as the villain, the story shows that people often get in their own way of looking for a fairy tale ending.
“(‘Into the Woods’) talks about what is the definition of good, what is the definition of bad and how far will we go to get what we want and what are the consequences of that. Those are things that no matter where you are in the world, they’re are all very human,” she says.
“One of the main things that this show communicates is that nothing is black and white – there’s always a gray area. The witch doesn’t believe in good and bad. She knows that some things are necessary, some things you have to live without and that they are consequences. That’s what I like about her so much. She has a sense of not pessimism, but realism,” Bandt adds.