into the woods

JMU's production of "Into The Woods" took on a subdued yet creative approach of the popular musical.

The Forbes Center of Performing Arts Concert Hall is lit in a blue hue as audience members make their way to their seats for JMU School of Theatre and Dance’s production of “Into the Woods.” Onstage there are various chairs for storytelling, bookshelves to represent an array of breads to sell, a ladder to represent a tower and various trees to represent the mysterious woods that will change the traditional fairy tales we know and love.

Actors onstage took on their characters, always reacting and interacting with each other and occasionally looking at the storybooks displayed onstage. The audience sighed, cried, laughed and rejoiced as the classic characters went on a roller coaster of emotions throughout their personal and interpersonal journeys into the woods.  

The production allowed for audience members to enjoy an authentic, creative and inventive production of the classic Stephen Sondheim musical. Based off multiple fairy tales by The Brothers Grimm, “Into the Woods” is a story of how our choices affect others, how our stories tie together, to be careful with wishing and to be cautious of what we teach our children.

The audience is introduced to a diverse cast of characters from the very beginning of the musical, including a Baker and his wife longing for a child, the Witch next door, Cinderella longing to go to the ball, Jack and his Mother struggling to stay afloat and Little Red Riding Hood on her way to her grandmother’s house. They’re all connected with one common objective to enter into the woods to seek what they wish for.

The Witch gives the Baker and his wife a riddle to solve so they may have children, Cinderella gets help from her mother’s grave to go to the King’s Festival, Little Red sets off to her grandmother’s house, and Jack sets off to the market to sell his cow. The audience follows the characters’ interactions with other characters like princes, wolves, giants and magic beans.

Act 1 finishes with all the characters living the traditional happily ever after, though they fail to realize the error in getting a wish that you wished for. Act 2 turns the company’s happy lives upside down due to a giant terrorizing the kingdom. The Baker loses his wife, Cinderella leaves the flirtatious prince, Little Red Riding Hood loses her grandmother and Jack loses his mother. By working together to defeat the Giant, they work toward another Happily Ever After.

Performed in the state-of-the-art Concert Hall at the Forbes Performing Arts Center, the open Concert Hall allowed for the audience to be wrapped and involved in the story. Many of the characters entered using all the doors in the Concert Hall including the doorways near audience members to make them feel as if they were part of the story.

For the majority of the musical, the company stayed on stage, patiently waiting to jump into the scene to be involved in the story unfolding. The crew was inventive in the interpretation of the storytelling. Traditionally, “Into the Woods” has a large scale set with a massive background. JMU made the set simplistic and set in a library to emphasize the element of storytelling. Setting the musical in a library also let the audience to be in a familiar space to enter into the fairytale world. The cast made strategic use of its space, interpreting the simple set to gracefully intercede with the splendor of the Concert Hall.

By using iconic props, such as paper pamphlets to represent birds flapping around, an actual actor playing the character of Milky White the cow, instead of a traditional fake cow prop, and leather jackets lined with fur to represent the bad-boyesque characterizations of the wolves. By using props that the audience could recognize, the crew made the story feel more genuine in the delivery.

Evan Bertram and Brent Comer had stand out vocal performances as the Witch and Wolf/Cinderella’s Prince, captivating the audience at every line they delivered. Overall, the cast had impressive and appropriate comedic timing in the humorous parts of the story, while also giving a genuine emotional performance when the story took a turn for the darker side.

In Act 2, Colton Chase Mercado’s performance as the Baker was captivating and portrayed a tense sadness as a struggling single father trying to navigate the woods. The humor didn’t take away from the greater message being delivered.

JMU’s “Into The Woods” was a highly enjoyable show for families to enjoy. They created a fairy tale world that taught viewers to be careful what they wish for.

Contact Kate Harwood at harwooke@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts, and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.