By Ben Reed, Arts + Culture Editor
As a part of their 2023-2024 main stage program, USM’s Department of Theatre has produced their rendition of Into the Woods, a musical written by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. The story intertwines several classic fairy tales, including Cinderella, Jack & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel to tell the story of a baker and his wife who must set out on a quest to reverse a witch’s curse that has left their family barren, and their interactions with the fairy tale characters around them. The musical made its Broadway debut in 1987, and garnered accolades from the Tony Awards in the major categories of Best Score, Best Book, and Best Supporting Actress for Joanna Gleason, who originally played the role of the Baker’s Wife. The show has been revered as a classic, and has been reproduced in various stage adaptations since its inception. In 2014, Disney produced a film adaptation with an ensemble cast including James Corden, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and Anna Kendrick, among others, and went on to receive nominations at both the Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Now it has come to our doorstep as a focal point of the Department of Theatre’s main stage program. The Department of Theatre collaborated with the Osher School of Music to provide a live orchestra to accompany the actors with their musical numbers
I had the immense pleasure of seeing this production on its opening night, especially as tickets had almost completely sold out across their week-long run. The set was composed of a large wooden catwalk that spanned the stage, complete with a set of stairs and a landing. Hundreds of pieces of paper adorned the structure to resemble the treetops of a forest. Smaller set pieces, including flower beds and house-like structures to resemble the homes of Cinderella, Jack and the Baker were moved on and off stage as needed. The live orchestra pit was placed behind the wooden structure, still visible to the audience, yet it remained undistracting to the audience.
Across this show’s various adaptations around the world, the costuming has stayed mostly rigid, staying in the vein of gowns, dresses, and trousers for the ensemble. What stood out in USM’s production was not only the vibrant color palette, but the use of certain modern elements, such as a backwards baseball cap, converse shoes, and asymmetrical skirts for some of the female characters. On the topic of his inspiration for the costumes, designer Kevin Hutchins described his move to make the costumes appear more modern as a way to make the problems portrayed more relatable to audiences. “My goal was to use a vibrant color palette to allow each character to pop against the scenery and to have a relationship with the characters they interact with visually via color. In addition, the director and I discussed using touches of contemporary clothing to make the characters and their struggles more relatable to a modern audience,” said Hutchins.
The performances of this cast were filled with passion, pizzazz, and respect for the material. This musical is one that takes childhood fables and attaches real-world atmospheres to the character arcs that audience members can then take out of the theater. Parenting and childhood, and desire and loss are some of the central themes explored on stage as the ensemble wishes for their individual circumstances to change, only to second guess themselves as their actions come back to haunt them. At first glance, standout performances could be found in Kallie Brown as the Witch, Molly Scott as Cinderella, Chana Wingard as the Baker’s Wife, Will McPherson as Jack, and Nick Sutton, who played both the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince–though the prowess of every person on stage alone deserves applause.
While USM’s run of Into the Woods has finished, the Department of Theatre still has a lot more to give the USM community this year, with their upcoming production of Eurydice Rising taking the stage on April 4 and running through April 8.