Before “Grimm” and “Once Upon a Time,” there was “Into the Woods.”
North Central College students will stage four performances of the Stephen Sondheim musical Nov. 7-10. The performances will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7-9 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 10 in the College’s Pfeiffer Hall. It is directed by guest director James Beaudry of Chicago.
“Into the Woods,” written by Sondheim and James Lapine in 1987, is a contemporary musical that explores the darker side of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales. When a childless baker and his wife are put under a spell by the witch next door, they embark upon a quest to find the special items needed to break the spell. While on this quest, they must lie and steal from fairy-tale favorites, including “Cinderella,” “Rapunzel” and “Little Red Riding Hood.”
Beaudry jumped at the chance to direct “Into the Woods.”
“It’s something I’ve wanted to direct for a long time,” he said. “I love the story. It deals with fairy tales, but sort of deconstructs them in a way. In our contemporary pop culture, ‘Shrek’ did that but this is a much more intelligent. It takes these archetypes of childhood and really deals with these characters having to group and having to leave the cookie-cutter world of fairy tales and into the real world. When I’m looking for projects to direct, I’m interested in things that pertain to the world we live in.”
Pop culture is lush with fantasy right now, he said.
“You look at what’s popular right now whether it’s ‘American Horror Story’ or ‘Game of Thrones’ or even ‘Harry Potter’ – there’s a fantasy element to what we are interested in. I think that’s our group psychology of the day; imagining the world as a better place. Or a world where more things are possible if we feel stuck,” he said. “That’s what this show is about … these characters that we know from fairy tales that go off into the woods on a journey to find this thing that they think is going to make their lives better. Then they get it, and they have to deal with the consequences.”
The show is almost entirely performed in song, with many lines underscored with music. He is thrilled to have 12 live musicians.
“It’s one of the best scores ever written for musical theater, and to hear it full and to be able to have the cast sing to that is going to be really lovely,” he said.
His young cast is doing well with the difficult material, he said.
“It’s very intellectual music and hard. There are so many words. His lyrics are absolutely brilliant,” he said. “It’s very difficult language to memorize and accomplish musically. We forget how powerful good acting can be. I’m really excited to unleash them on an audience.”
He said audiences should expect an evening of powerful theater woven through a beautiful story.
“The musical is about growing up and finding your real authentic self and not an idealized version of yourself that fits into some fairy tale mold without really discovering who you are in the world,” he said. “There are so many plot lines and so many characters, that ultimately it’s not about what happens, it’s about the growth these characters go through and allowing the audience to experience that with them.”