Into the Woods: A Fantastical Change of Pace
In past years, the Pratt Theatre has been home to satirical, highly technical, and semi-esoteric plays. This upcoming spring, however, these trends will be upset; Into the Woods, the broadway-show-gone-major-motion-picture and a favorite of high school theatre groups, will take the stage.
Into the Woods, originally written by James Lapine with lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim, features a mélange of characters from the classic tales of the Brothers Grimm, including Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk. The show centers around the quest of a childless baker and his wife to lift a curse that prevents them from having children.
Many recent Packer productions have been based on real life time periods or events—Cabaret satirized Berlin in the 1930s, My Fair Lady was a social commentary on turn of the century England, and The Drowsy Chaperone focused on musical theatre styles of the 1920s. However, this year’s musical is entirely grounded in the concepts of whimsy and folklore—a major departure from the productions of years past.
“This is basically an alternate world compared to what we usually have been doing,” said Frayda Lieber (‘21), a constant presence in Packer theatre. “A lot of the [productions] that we have been doing have been pre World War II Europe, or around that time in the United States. But [Into the Woods] is this other world of fairy tales.”
Because of its large cast filled with many important characters, Into the Woods lends itself to being an extremely attractive play for Packer students to audition for. The show has 23 roles and will not have an ensemble or chorus, which will put a spotlight on the theatrical skill of actors in the show.
“We have so many talented people at Packer, and I think a lot of times people can get cut short of what they are capable of. So I think that this show will be good in terms of showing off all of the talent that Packer has,” shared Talia Hartman-Sigall (‘20), who played the lead role in last year’s musical, The Drowsy Chaperone.
The popularity of Into the Woods is also much greater than recent productions. The Government Inspector, while different than Into the Woods in that it was a play, was not well known. Ticket sales for this show were not as high as years past, which may have been linked to its popularity.
“I feel like [Into the Woods] is going to satisfy a lot of people who need to see something they know. I feel like it is going to attract ticket sales,” said Khaja Daniel (‘21), who has done a junior production of Into the Woods outside of Packer and plans to audition for the musical come January.
Often, when we view theatre at Packer, what impacts us the most are the messages that are most important to us. The storyline of Into the Woods explores the theme of action and consequence; each character wishes for something and must face the repercussions of their wishes, both good and bad. In a school community, all of our actions inevitably affect each other, no matter how big or small they may be. While the musical may not have a realistic edge, the story’s musings on morality delivered with the appeal of well-known tales make it an extremely relevant piece for packer students.
“Into the Woods is really about responsibility and being careful what you wish for. While it doesn’t necessarily have an overt political message, it’s timely to reinforce the idea that we are not separate and alone. We actually share this life, we share where we are, we share our stories and we’re better together,” said Ali Boag, chair of the arts department. “Packer is making great efforts for us to talk one to another as much as possible. We’re about sharing things, sharing our stories with other people to understand one another better and actually listening.”
The show also has many subtexts that, while created to fit within the themes of fantasy, are real and prominent. Many tales by the Brothers Grimm are allegorical, often serving as the first moral lessons for the children that consume them. Into the Woods twists these classic tales to highlight dynamics and struggles that are true to life and important for Packer students to be exposed to.
“There’s an underlying story with Little Red and the Wolf. In their relationship, she’s kind of scared about him but it excites her at the same time, because she is just an adolescent and there’s this man who’s showing her so much attention. And it’s scary. There are so many different emotions. And there are so many other things about growing up in this show that could apply to Packer kids,” offered Khaja. As for the direction of the show, much should be anticipated for how the production will take shape on stage. While no creative decisions are is set in stone yet, the idea of the mystery of the woods setting relates to the Packer beyond the surface level. As the characters transition from cause and effect, they also transition through the woods, discovering its secrets. The same could be said for Packer students braving through high school. As Mr. Boag put it: “What is a school if not a transitional place?”