After Cinderella marries Prince Charming, he explains why he cheats on her: I was raised to be charming, not sincere. I am not perfect. I am only human. Oh, yeah.
The Princes explanation for his fling in the forest the night before happens to be my favorite line in the musical Into the Woods. It captures the humor, sophistication and adult complexity of the Sondheim-Lapine collaboration that some think is just a collection of childhood fairy tales. Away from their spouses, the Prince and the Bakers Wife succumb to sudden attraction. Both are surprised. The morning after, they need to reassess the situation.
Making mistakes, dreaming dreams and facing consequences are life issues. Into the Woods tackles all of the above with a light yet intricate touch.
On opening weekend at Fort Lewis College, everything came together for a post-modern retelling of childhood classics. Into the Woods mixes Red Riding Hoods quest with Cinderellas plight, Rapunzels lament and Jack and the Beanstalks adventure. James Lapine wrote the book and invented a few characters to knit story lines together. Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics.
The first act begins with two stock phrases: Once upon a time and I wish. Ironically, by intermission, all the characters have their wishes fulfilled. In the second act, they have to shovel their way out of the consequences.
Woods is an ensemble piece. Overall, the college cast performed with energy and confidence. Credit guest director Traci Lyn Thomas and her faculty team for creating conditions in which the students could flourish. Each performer, whether music, theater or business major, plunged into his or her character and delivered a clear persona with a frustrating dilemma.
Sondheim musicals are often text-driven, so articulation is critical. Music director Andrew Homburg must have drilled his singers because the words and the wit came across nicely. Here and there, pitch problems surfaced, so the performance wasnt flawless. And there was one glaring projection problem. Only six singers had head microphones, which resulted in uneven sound projection and some lost dialogue. A benefactor might even the odds with a specific donation for sound equipment.
Set and lighting designer Craig Mitchell dispensed with the conventional cottage-and-forest scheme. Instead, Mitchell has crafted an open playing space surrounded by giant sculptured flats that suggest ancient trees. The trees create a variety of entrance-exit alcoves for the dizzying array of movement and plot twists. Two fixed locations include: Rapunzels high lair and Grandmothers cottage where bloody deeds are enacted behind a scrim for a spectacular shadow play.
The rugged and ragged stage terrain would be static except for Mitchells creative lighting. With a swiftly changing palate, colors furiously match moods, from creamy morning to purpled darkness, from soft evening to bloody red terror when doom strikes. Mitchell also backlit scenes through suddenly translucent trees for even more magical effects. Its a brilliant rethinking of the look of Woods.
Costume Designer Jane Gould illuminated period and class distinctions with colorful fabrics, interesting shapes and textures. Sound designer Weylin Ryan scared the bark off the trees with an impressive rendition of storms and giant steps. Electronic voice-overs were not as successful. Small problems aside, technical support must serve story, lyrics and music. Composer Sondheim wove numerous musical styles into the work, stitching witty fragments into whole cloth in richly textured arrangements for voice and orchestra.
Whenever the characters enter the woods, trumpet, horns and snare drum snap into a crisp march. Laments, ballads and lullabies are sweetened by flute, clarinet, bassoon and piano. Credit conductor Jonathan Latta and the FLC music department for marshaling and polishing an all-student ensemble. In the past, there has been a scramble to form a pit band with uneven results. Now students get college credit for their efforts
If youve never seen Woods, get a ticket for next weekend. If youve seen other productions, see this one. And lastly, given events in the Middle East and Japan, we can all stand to hear the final song one more time.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.