Into the Woods

Elissa Sanci

The University of New Haven Theater Program presented Into the Woods Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, April 3 to April 7.

The cast of Into the Woods. (photo obtained via Facebook)

The musical, directed by Heather Reba, was a success and even garnered a standing ovation. Written by James Lapine with songs and lyrics by Stephen Sondhiem, the musical followed the classic fairytale stories as they happened in the Brothers Grimm fairytales but with a twist: instead of ending the story, they delve further, following the characters to show the repercussions of their wishes.

The play followed many of the characters everyone knows and loves, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (of Jack and the Bean Stalk fame), Rapunzel, the Witch (a universal villain) and the Baker and his wife.

A large part of the musical’s success was derived from the actors themselves. Cinderella, portrayed by Samantha Bowers, was vulnerable yet very hopeful, and Bowers created a character that was very relatable to the audience members.

The Baker, played by James Zap, was confused and helpless without his wife, but underwent great character development. Zap played this part so well that it was clear to everyone in the audience what was happening.

An interesting choice made by the director was to have two men, David Janovsky and Zachary Smith-Grabko, play the part of Cinderella’s stepsisters, Lucinda and Florinda. They were costumed in dresses and corsets, and built off of each other, adding to the comedy of the play.

The musical also made use of many puppeteers, who changed the scenes, moved around the props and made the sound effects. The puppeteers were all dressed in costumes matching the play’s time setting: knitted overalls with high socks and hats. The puppeteers were responsible for all the sound effects, and instead standing off stage, invisible to the actors, the puppeteer would come out onto the stage, either providing the noise of a magical bean being thrown, someone knocking on a door, the milking of a cow, and so on.

“The experience was amazing,” Scout Brink, the puppeteer who played the front half of Milky White, Jack’s cow, said. “I was nervous at first because I thought I wouldn’t fit in, but everyone welcomed me right away. It’s made me grow as an actor, and I’m much more comfortable on stage now.”

The musical included live music, played by a pit orchestra, which included one clarinet, one flute, one euphonium, piano and keyboard. “Playing in the pit for this musical was a great experience,” said freshman clarinet player Sabrina Aravena. “It’s nice to know I helped to create some of the magic that was part of this show.”

Into the Woods, like all fables and fairytales before it, leaves the audience with a few lessons learned. The story itself delivers a warning to the audience: be careful what you wish for, because you never know if it will come true. Each character got what they wanted: Cinderella went to the ball, Jack (played by Tyler Prigionieri) found a way to make both himself and his mother (Abby Wuestneck) wealthy, and the Baker and his wife (Taylor Schwieger) found a way to have a child. But what came after was not necessarily happy. Everything comes with a price; each character’s actions had negative reactions and they were left to deal with the consequences.

The musical also sent another message to the audience: you are never alone. No matter what happens, no matter how bad things get, no matter how desolate life looks, there is always someone there for you. This message is displayed through the close-knit friendships formed on stage between the characters.

The University of New Haven’s production of Into the Woods was, to put it simply, a success. The actors brought James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s story to life, and worked in perfect harmony to convey the meaning behind the musical. The production was relatable to the audience—everyone has made mistakes and has had to deal with the consequences at some point in life—and that’s why it was such a memorable and worthwhile production.