Wishes, magic, and fairy tales

It’s the show that won 10 Tony Awards in 1988. It’s been adapted for television and had a revival on Broadway in 2002. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen; it’s another stellar Stephen Sondheim production.

Famous for the antics of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd, and the lyrics of West Side Story, Sondheim productions are known to be hits.

Into the Woods is the next show of the season at the Purnell Center for the Arts. The fairy tale is amusing, entertaining, and thought-provoking as the characters engage in a story of wishing and a wish’s consequences.

Director Kent Gash said, “The themes [of the show] are really about enchantment versus enlightenment, community and family, and individual responsibility. When there is a crisis, what do you do? To get to that happy ending, there’s going to be costs. These are the underlying themes of the play.”

The story begins with a narrator who breaks through the fourth wall and interacts directly with the audience. He introduces the audience to the characters and helps the plot move along, as the production is one big story with a collection of intertwined tales. The main characters of the musical are all familiar ones from well-known Brothers’ Grimm stories, including “Cinderella,” “Jack and the Bean Stalk,” and “Rapunzel,” among others. The opening scene introduces the audience to three stories at once: Cinderella and her evil step-family, the Baker and his Wife who wish to have a child, and Jack and his Mother, owners of a cow that no longer gives milk.

These characters are all connected to the Baker and his Wife; in order to fulfill their desire to have a child, the couple enlists the help of a witch, who requires certain items from them to break the curse. The Baker and his Wife then embark on a journey in song to recover “a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, [and] a slipper as pure as gold.”

Other plot lines involving giants, the Baker’s father, and a wise tree run throughout the show, but what binds the stories and characters together is the setting of the play: the woods. It is these woods that act as both a catalyst and a hindrance to the quests of the characters aching to satisfy their desires.

“It is one of the greatest musicals in the past 20–25 years,” Gash said. “Stephen Sondheim is a king of musical writing.” Gash added that it is his pleasure to direct the show for Carnegie Mellon.

During rehearsal, it is apparent that Gash wants to “honor what’s written,” as he is very meticulous about each detail of the show. From costumes to sounds effects, from stage presence to lighting, choreographer Byron Easley said, “Kent has crazy vision and creativity; he’s a great story teller.” As for the actors in the show, “[they’re] going to work hard,” he said with a smile as he watched them on stage.

The set design is remarkable, and during portions of the performance viewers see interaction with characters on stage and in the balcony. The music is comical at times, and the characters on stage are memorable. The show is meant to be enjoyed.

“It’s hugely entertaining,” Gash said. “There’s amazing music, [and] a great sense of spectacle and surprise.” Indeed, the audience is engaged in a creative and unpredictable storyline complete with a great musical score and characters flying throughout the stage.

With the amount of precision and earnest dedication to the show, viewers are anticipating opening night. “It’s a great piece of musical theater,” Gash said, “even for people who don’t like musicals.”

The show will run from Thursday, Nov. 13 to Saturday, Nov. 22 in the Philip Chosky Theater. The performance times are Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. For information about ticket purchases, contact the School of Drama box office at 412-268-2407 between noon and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.