Vail Valley Theatre Company presents Stephen Sondheim’s preeminent classic ‘Into the Woods’
If you go …
What: “Into the Woods,” presented by the Vail Valley Theatre Company.
When: 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, Saturday, Oct. 1, Friday, Oct. 7, and Saturday, Oct. 8.
Where: Battle Mountain High School auditorium, 151 Miller Ranch Road, Edwards.
Cost: $25 for adults and $15 for students.
More information: Tickets are available in advance at http://www.vailtheatre.org.
• Jeff Davis — Narrator
• Franny Gustafson — Cinderella
• Aaron Szindler — Jack
• Kimberly Manahan — Jack’s Mother
• Lance Schober — Baker
• Charis Patterson — Baker’s Wife
• Becky Levin — Cinderella’s Stepmother
• Elena Ortiz — Florinda
• Nicole Abrams — Lucinda
• Steve Szindler — Cinderella’s Father
• Naomi Kuntz — Little Red Riding Hood
• Beth Swearingen — Witch
• Johnette Toye — Cinderella’s Mother/Granny/ Giant
• John Tedstrom — Mysterious Man
• Blake Harrison — Wolf
• Jamie Simmonds — Rapunzel
• Bart Garton — Rapunzel’s Prince
• Jason Steinberg — Cinderella’s Prince
• Patrick Caron — Steward
• Serena Kovusko — Snow White
• Laura Hosmer — Sleeping Beauty/Assistant Stage Manager
• Kaylee Brennand — Director
• Jonathan Gorst — Musical Director
• Alex Trosper — Assistant Musical Director
• Dean Davis — Technical Director
• Matt Phillips — Lighting Designer
• David Mayer — Set Design
• Aja Vogelman — Stage Manager
• Ashley Wagner — Assistant Stage Manager
• Tommy Anderson — Sound Engineer
• Betsy Ray — Costumes
• Sarah Bracht — House Manager
Time is the underlying villain of any theater production, but it’s especially nefarious when it means juggling the schedules of teachers, retail workers, wait staff, business owners and even professional performers — all of whom form the cast and crew of the Vail Valley Theatre Company.
Despite that ever-moving and sometimes sinister pendulum, for its fall production the troupe chose to tackle one of the more daunting pieces of literature in the musical canon: Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.”
“When we were looking at musicals, there are some that everybody dreams of doing, and this is one,” Director Kaylee Brennand said. “And we realized that there was a good chance we had the talent, both onstage and off, that we could pull it off.”
The show raises the bar, from sets, costumes and lighting to its challenging lyrical script, demanding almost every spare minute from the largely volunteer corps.
“There was no fear on the part of either the artistic staff or the actors,” Brennand said. “And every time I’ve asked for something from them, emotionally, physically, artistically, they’ve delivered.”
Challenges notwithstanding, the Vail Valley Theatre Company smote the hand of time and will bring to life Sondheim’s fairytale-inspired masterpiece with four evening shows Friday and Saturday, as well as Friday, Oct. 7, and Saturday, Oct. 8.
Tackling Sondheim’s work was no easy task. His music is incredibly complicated and unexpected, which makes it sound unlike anything else, Brennand said.
“It’s definitely a more complex structure in every way that you can imagine — in terms of rhythm, in terms of melody; even the form of the music is not something you’d find in ‘Oklahoma,’” said Jonathan Gorst, music director for “Into the Woods.”
Unlike perennial Broadway favorites such as “West Side Story” or “The Sound of Music,” the dialogue captured within each of Sondheim’s songs is integral to the plot line.
“The song in a typical musical theater piece that we’re used to serves as an aria, an explosion of emotion, a showcase of something, but in this show, it’s very much tied to the actual plot and the action that takes place in the plot,” Gorst said.
“There’s nothing that’s extraneous,” said Beth Swearingen, who plays the role of the Witch. “It’s not: Let’s all break into song because it’s time for a chorus number. … Although the songs are sung, they’re dialogue heavy, they’re really moving the story along, which can be unusual in a classic musical.”
Though light in two-, three- or four-part harmonies, the show intertwines melodic lines with uncommon intervals and an usual amount of underscoring, a device that makes the music feel more like a movie score than a collection of show tunes, Gorst said.
“This is a show, frankly, you should watch a couple of times because it’s very complicated and clever,” said Bart Garton, who plays Rapunzel’s Prince in the show. “They make really good use of some fantastic lyrics that are good observations about life, set to music in a very amusing, clever way.”
Themes and lessons
“Into the Woods” melds elements of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Rapunzel,” with hints of “Snow White” and “Sleeping Beauty.” Each of the fairytale characters is dedicated to his or her own quest, blind to the potential consequences elicited by their actions.
“At the end of Act I, the quest is completed: Jack has killed the giant, Little Red Riding Hood has a wolf cape, and that’s the end of the first act,” Brennand said. “The second act is what happens after happily every after, and it’s not always pretty.”
It turns out, princes are not so charming, giants aren’t so villainous and good doesn’t clearly triumph over evil. Sondheim and James Lapine, who authored the show’s libretto, embedded messages of morality and the consequences of revenge within the complex framework of the interwoven narratives.
“I would say the main theme here is careful what you wish for,” Garton said. “Wishes are great to have, you can have dreams, but there may be consequences — the idea that you can’t control your wish.”
“Something you are looking for and attaining as an ideal, once you get that ideal, there’s a backside to it,” Swearingen added. “Like, oh gosh, I hope I’m a movie star — but then you’re hounded by paparazzi, you’re living in a fishbowl.”
It’s been said that “Into the Woods” was Sondheim’s kind of in-your-face answer to his critics, proving he could write a commercially successful musical that appeals to a broad audience, Gorst said.
“But he didn’t leave out a deeper message to it, and that is that the perspective of each character is what creates the conflict, and that the more the characters begin to understand the others’ perspective, the better they are able to cope with their surroundings.”
Throughout the show, the characters develop depth beyond their superficial, Disney-esque back stories.
“The witch in the context of this show is, in a lot of ways, she’s the voice of reason,” Swearingen said. “Many of the characters in the show have rose-colored glasses; she distinctly does not. In many ways, although it can be ugly, she’s the voice of truth. You kind of think she’s a typical witch, when you meet her, but as the piece progresses, you realize that she’s something much different than she appears.
“I think that’s another sub-lesson in the show itself is that appearances can be deceiving. We all know and think about what the quintessential Prince Charming is, but when you peel back the layers, you see something else.”