photos by Samantha Khan
By Alanna Koehler ’15, Managing Editor
The F&M Players, directed by Charlie Wynn ’16, brought a little bit of magic — and a couple of farm animals — to Schnader Theatre in Roschel Performing Arts Center when the group performed the fairytale-laden production Into the Woods this past week. The show, which opened Jan. 16 and ran through Jan. 18, was the first of two productions the Players have slated for this semester, with the second, annual production of Broadway Revue, set to open after Spring break.
The 1986 musical Into the Woods was written by James Lapine ’71, notable F&M alumnus, with music and lyrics by Stephen Soundheim. The duo won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for their show Sunday in the Park with George. In 1988, Into the Woods won the men two Tony Awards, including Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score, while actress Joanna Gleason, who played the Baker’s Wife, won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for the show.
“It’s really cool to have a piece of F&M on stage,” Athena Tahos ’14, president of F&M Players and played the Baker’s Wife in the Players’ production of Into the Woods, told F&M News regarding having the opportunity to perform a musical written by an alumnus.
Lapine’s show follows several fairytale characters, including two characters he and Soundheim conceived, the Baker and his Wife, as they set out into the woods to hunt for the things they want.
The Baker and his Wife require an item from each character in order to lift a curse of infertility from their home, and, in their search, tie all the fairytales together: Cinderella in her quest to attend the festival, Jack and his Mother in their attempts to get money for their cow, Little Red Ridinghood in her trek to Granny’s house, and Rapunzel, who the Witch locked away in a tower in the woods, as she is introduced to the not-so-solitary life. Upon receiving their wishes and lifting the curse, the characters hurdle into the second act, during which they grapple with the question: what happens when happily ever after ends? The characters are faced with the responsibilities and consequences that come with getting what they want.
The Players held auditions for Into the Woods in Sept. 2013, from which Wynn casted 30 characters. The cast and crew prepared for the duration of the Fall semester, but much of the final work was completed after the New Year.
“Tech crew, as well as the director and [I] came back on Jan. 3 in order to begin set construction,” said Emma Corrado ’16, stage manager. “It took us over two and a half weeks after that date to build and finalize everything on the massive set.”
The set consisted of an eight-foot tall, 24-foot wide bookshelf complete with three books that could be pulled off the shelf and rotated to reveal scenes from the fairytales. Rapunzel’s tower stood eight feet tall on stage left, while large trees adorned stage right.
“My favorite memory from this process as a whole has to be when the final touches were put on the set,” Corrado said. “Charlie and I had been working on this set design with our set contractor, Brian Ariano, since mid-March of 2013, so to finally see it standing and completed was incredible. Just like Into the Woods takes fairytales off of their book pages and makes them come alive, it was amazing to watch this set design go from an image on a piece of paper to an actual creation.”
After a semester of Saturday night rehearsals, the cast returned a week prior to the start of the Spring semester for tech week, which consisted of a rigorous rehearsal schedule that usually ran from 9:00 a.m. to around 8:00 p.m. each day.
“Into the Woods is an incredibly difficult production, both in vocal and acting aspects,” Corrado said of the challenges the group faced.
The cast and crew were able to come together despite the stresses of perfecting not only the set and the acting itself, but also Soundheim’s tricky lyrics and musical timing.
“Everyone gets really close,” Wynn said about tech week. “It’s the point in the semester when any people who weren’t in scenes with anyone else really got to know each other. It’s really fun.”
Wynn reflected on the assistance her fellow Players’ offered in the production of Into the Woods.
“A lot of them hadn’t seen the show, and they brought in a lot of ideas that I’d never even thought of,” she said. “There were different elements drawn from different productions I’d seen or been in or that other people had been to.”
Wynn and Corrado were both quite familiar with the musical, however, having drawn much of the inspiration for their theater careers from Into the Woods.
“Into the Woods was the first production I stage managed in high school, so it has always been very dear to me,” Corrado said. “Without doing that show as a freshman in high school, I would definitely not be doing Players now.”
Wynn echoed a similar sentiment, as Into the Woods resonated with her at a very young age, after which she performed in a junior version of the show in elementary school and was cast as Florinda, one of the stepsisters, in high school.
“I first saw [Into the Woods] when I was in first grade and my mom took me with her because she had to see it for a class she was in,” Wynn said. “I just really loved it.
“I saw the Witch, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! I could do that,’” she continued. “I’ve never been the ingénue type, and it’s been my dream role my entire life. I just really love Into the Woods.”
Corrado, too, was captivated by the Witch, citing Kelsey Prakken’s ’14 character as her favorite in the Players’ production. In an upcoming Into the Woods movie, which will be co-produced by Walt Disney Pictures and is set for release on Dec. 25 of this year, Meryl Streep will portray the crowd-favorite, rapping Witch.
Into the Woods, either as a theatrical production or film, provides its audiences with comic relief, heavy themes, complicated musical numbers, and portal into childhood fantasies. For Wynn, watching the audience respond to these aspects of the musical was the most rewarding part of a difficult job.
“I think having an audience for the first time [Thursday] night was probably my favorite thing just because this whole time I’ve been the only one sitting in the audience, the only one laughing at the jokes and clapping to the songs, so hearing people laughing at stuff that I had never thought of as funny or seeing the actors respond to having an audience out there was really, really great,” Wynn said.
Junior Alanna Koehler is the Managing Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.