Stolen Shakespeare Guild Goes Into the Woods
The first time I saw “Into The Woods,” my little brother was playing Jack (the one with the beanstalk) in his high school production. There was a cardboard cow and a wolf, and I remember vaguely the flash of Little Red’s cape. Schools typically do Act I and call it a day because Act II has some less-fairytale moments, like a human sacrifice, Prince Charming’s affair, and general mass murder. Besides those little bits of unpleasantness, it is really a fairy tale. Mostly. It is also a dark, brilliant, funny, poignant parable of real life.
Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for “Into The Woods” (with book by James Lapine), and it made its Broadway debut in 1987. The show then won multiple Tony awards, including Best Score and Best Book. Ever since, it has become a cult classic, especially among theater people. Among normal people, there seems to be a pretty clear breakdown between people who LOVE Sondheim and people who HATE Sondheim. There is a third category, I suppose, of people who don’t know what a “Sondheim” is, which is likely 99.98 percent of the world’s 6 billion people.
My feelings about “Into the Woods” have shifted a bit. I was intrigued by the first song I heard from the show about ten years ago — “On the Steps of the Palace.” I had not yet seen the show in its entirety or been indoctrinated by theater folk on the Sondheim party line, and I found the song interesting but weird. It had moments of dissonance, of no melody. But it was something else, too, something I did like… it was acty. The person singing it (Cinderella) had to really follow a mental line, evaluating her desires, struggling with competing emotions, and coming to a conclusion by the end of the song. It is not MEANT to be a pretty song, but a song that gets to the heart of a character’s problem.
I think that is the crux of Sondheim’s renown, especially among performers: he gives them something more to do in a song than just hit a perfect pitch or sing a beautiful phrase. When I later watched the entirety of the Bernadette Peter’s production on YouTube (Google it!), I was struck with how the music advanced the plot and the characters in a truly visceral and seamless way, instead of interrupting a perfectly good moment between characters with yet another ballad. I guess what it boils down to is that I am officially sold on Sondheim.
I have a hunch that my admiration for his work will only grow as I begin rehearsals for Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s production of “Into the Woods,” opening at the Sander’s Theater on April 13 and running through April 29. (As of this writing, rehearsals are still a month away!) The company, with whom I have worked quite a bit over the last couple of years, is known for tackling, well, a lot of Shakespeare, but also other classic playwrights like Chekhov, Moliere, and Ibsen. These are real acty playwrights writing really acty plays. “Into the Woods” will fit right in with that crew, even if it happens to feature witches, beanstalks, and Prince Not-So-Charming.
I will be tackling the Cinderella role as she wrestles with what to do with her shoe… on the steps of the palace. Maybe I shouldn’t say “tackling the role.” Maybe “embracing gracefully, as would befit a princess!”
Whether you are a theater person or a civilian, I invite you to come experience a truly interesting, maybe even magical, night of theater and form your own about Sondheim and “Into the Woods!”
“Into the Woods” plays at the Sanders Theater from April 13 through April 29. The story follows a Baker and his wife, who wish to have a child; Cinderella, who wishes to attend the King’s Festival; and Jack, who wishes his cow would give milk. When the Baker and his wife learn that they cannot have a child because of a Witch’s curse, the two set off on a journey to break the curse. Everyone’s wish is granted, but the consequences of their actions return to haunt them later with disastrous results. Rated PG-13. Purchase tickets at stolenshakespeareguild.org.Julie Rhodes is a local actor, writer, and mom — though not always in that order. She’s performed at Stolen Shakespeare Guild, Casa Mañana, Circle Theatre, Lyric Stage, and Christ Chapel Bible Church. When she’s not wrangling kids Drew and Madeline, she is dressing her pug Eloise in new sweaters. Julie blogs about faith and life at wetbehindtheearsblog.com and about theater and acting at juliekrhodes.com.