To director Kate Leonard and her cast, who have been in rehearsals since late February, "Into the Woods" is a grappling tale about the abrupt loss of childhood that comes with bearing responsibility.
The show is playing at the Evelyn Smith Music Theatre April 14-23, as the final show of ASU Music Theatre and Opera's 2022-2023 season.
Adapted from Brothers Grimm tales, the show interweaves the classic stories of "Cinderella", "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Rapunzel" with the story of two original characters: The Baker and The Baker's Wife.
A production conceived and designed by faculty and students of the Music Theatre and Opera program, the show's scenery resembles a playground, highlighting the dissonance between the innocence of the characters and the decisions they face as they progress through the show.
While the original 1987 Broadway production was modestly successful, the musical has found greater appreciation in retrospect for its depth and themes about parenting and the sense of community.
The same can be said for the entire catalog of the show's composer, Stephen Sondheim.
"Part of why we chose (Into The Woods) for our season was wanting to do a Sondheim," said Leonard.
The composer's death in 2021 has led to a resurgence in producing his work, among them major Broadway revivals of "Sweeney Todd," "Merrily We Roll Along" and a recent Broadway production of "Into the Woods."
The process of reviving a show involves resuscitating material from the past to create timely conversation in the present. Though "Into The Woods" is nearly 40 years old, the themes embodied by its ensemble cast of characters and variety of connected storylines continue to be relevant.
"It's important to remember that the show was sort of set in the AIDS epidemic and now with Coronavirus; it still has something to say," said Leonard. "I have seen many different productions, and the show always has something for everyone."
Leonard has worked on more than 50 ASU Music Theatre and Opera Productions. This is her last show with the program.
The cast are also exploring personal connections and deeper interpretations to their roles in the show.
Josh Pike, a freshman studying voice performance who plays the roles of The Wolf and Cinderella's Prince, finds a common archetype between his two characters.
"The Wolf is the face of evil in the show, and Cinderella's Prince is that evil put into a real person," Pike said.
While the Princes bring comedic levity, Pike believes their "Agony" — a song sung in the show – comes from a real place.
"It's funny cause its like first world problems, seeing these men complain about women, and how little they actually understand about them," said Pike.
The song "Giants in The Sky" features Jack singing about the presence of Giants from the magical beanstalk. However, it is really about the heft of responsibility that comes with growing older.
"As an actor of color, Sondheim's roles are very flexible, and I try to bring myself to every role," said Tre Moore, a freshman studying business entrepreneurship.
Moore was a nominee for the 2022 Jimmy Awards, a national competition for high school theatre performers hosted by the Broadway League.
"The college experience of stepping outside of my comfort zone is scary and exciting, which helps me relate to the character," he said.
Rehearsing a musical is an exciting but strenuous process. The interaction of vulnerable themes and elevated fairytales has made rehearsals of "Into The Woods" particularly hard, and occasionally, funny.
Jack's cow, Milky White, is a manipulated puppet and a major character, present in many emotional moments throughout the show.
Liam Boyd, a junior studying music theatre who plays the role of The Baker, and Molly Virtue, a freshman studying music theatre and standby cast member, share the same favorite memory from rehearsal involving the puppet.
"The first day when Milky White was brought to rehearsal, the wheels were not lubricated, and so it was screeching and everyone started laughing during 'No More,'" said Boyd.
Maggie Barry, a junior studying music theatre, plays The Baker's Wife. Her character keeps the show grounded and human as the plot veers into fantasy.
"She's funny, light and airy, but also has real, stagnant problems she wants to fix," said Barry. "It’s really cool to see nuanced women taking center stage, justifying their desires and taking charge of life."
"Wishes may bring problems/ such that you regret them/ better that, though/ than to never get them," the company sings at the beginning of the second act.
It's an abrupt, realist contrast from the first act, where naive and innocent characters find themselves in a fairytale that avoids as much of the dangers of wish-fulfillment as it justifies them, in a show that confronts real, pressing problems beyond the "happily ever after."
"Maybe they're magic," Barry says during a pivotal scene in the show. After months of work, it's finally time to come "Into the Woods" and experience the magic for yourself.
Performances of "Into the Woods" begin April 14. Tickets can be purchased from the ASU Herberger Box Office.
Edited by Claire van Doren, Reagan Priest and Anusha Natarajan.