The performing arts department at Savannah College of Art and Design will undertake one of his more popular works, “Into The Woods,” as the final show of the 2013-14 season.
An ambitious project, “Into The Woods” is a meshing of several Brothers Grimm fairytales that blend the nonsensical with the serious in a way that only Sondheim could justifiably bring to life.
IF YOU GO
What: Stephen Sondheim’s “Into The Woods”
When: 8 p.m. May 15-17; 3 p.m. May 18
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
Trivia: “Into The Woods” premiered on Broadway in 1987 and won several Tony Awards, as well as a Drama Desk award for Best Musical.
Matt Webb: NARRATOR/MYSTERIOUS MAN
Laura Spears: CINDERELLA
Michael Sterling Miller: JACK
Martine Fleurisma: JACK’S MOTHER
Christian Magby: MILKY WHITE
*Kavin Panmeechao: BAKER
Kerry Auer: BAKER’S WIFE
*Jennefer Morris-Lough: CINDERELLA’S STEPMOTHER
Mary-E Godfrey: FLORINDA
Amy White: LUCINDA
Cody Murphy: CINDERELLA’S FATHER
Hailey Vest: LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD
Amber Hancock: WITCH
Blythe Beard-Kitowski: CINDERELLA’S MOTHER/ GRANNY/ GIANT
*Aaron Catano: WOLF/ CINDERELLA’S PRINCE
Anne-Marie Trabolsi: RAPUNZEL
Adler Roberts: RAPUNZEL’S PRINCE
Erik Hauk: STEWARD
Bradleigh Watlington: SECOND COW
Lauren Tuma: FOOTMEN, BIRDS
*Appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association
SCAD’s performing arts chair and the show’s director, Michael Wainstein, took on “Into The Woods” to give his students a chance to flex their theatrical muscles.
“We wanted to do a Sondheim piece, and we wanted to do something challenging,” Wainstein said. “Also, we wanted to do something that was a real challenge stylistically. We like to revolve styles around every year, so a student coming for four years gets exposed to as many different styles of performing as possible.”
While a simple synopsis of the show consists of the winding stories of several beloved fairytales, the story doesn’t unravel in the typical archetype of children’s fables. The twists are darker (closer to the original motifs of the Grimm’s stories), and the themes are geared toward an adult audience.
Wainstein approached the staging with a “less is more” concept. With the complicated lyrics and story that is woven into the songs, Wainstein wanted to leave room for what is written into the music to exist organically, and without interruption.
“I’ve really simplified the staging down,” Wainstein said. “In some songs, the two princes for example, they hardly move at all. That’s something I would never do, I would always have them moving. But, you do it and it feels like you’re getting in the way of what’s going on. It’s all about the lyrics.
“There’s plenty of activity, and plenty of effervescence, but there’s also a lot of stillness to let the music speak for itself.”
“Stylistically, because it’s a fairytale, and it’s larger than life, we have to do a lot of work to help the actors find a way to be honest and real about what they were doing.
“But also to achieve the heightened style that’s important to make the piece work,” Wainstein said.
Accompanying the 20-member cast and nine understudies is a 10-piece orchestra, led by Wallace, and composed mostly of former and current SCAD students. In all, Wainstein said six departments from SCAD have been involved in the production.
“Into The Woods” is, as most Sondheim pieces are, a very formidable undertaking. The music alone can be a daunting task for even seasoned veterans of the stage. Some have considered Sondheim’s work to break the generic paradigm of musical theater with an operatic construction.
“You can’t fake these notes,” musical director Kevin Wallace said.
“They’re very high, they’re very low and very difficult sometimes to sustain the phrase. So you approach it with an operatic technique. But it’s like they have one voice with very many colors and you have to explore all the colors of the voice so that it sounds like they’re singing.”
In concession, both Wallace and Wainstein admitted the SCAD actors — ranging from sophomores in the undergraduate school to MFA candidates and Actors’ Equity members — were ready for the challenge.
“I was always confident in our talent pool,” Wainstein said.
“We wouldn’t have chosen it if we thought it was beyond our talent. It’s not to say it hasn’t been a challenge,” he said with a laugh. “But they rose to the occasion.”
Wallace echoed Wainstein’s sentiment concerning the cast.
“These kids have more than exceeded anything I could have dreamed of,” Wallace said.
“Sometimes, it just makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. They have just overwhelmed me sometimes with their ability, and just their understanding of what it is they need to do and how to do it.”
Within the intricate lyrics and dark humor that encompass the show are the usual themes of love and loss. Sondheim might play on dark or large themes, but the humanity in his music and lyrics has always garnered him high praise.
“This score is beautiful; it’s perfection,” Wallace said. “It’s like a Jackson Pollock painting. It may look like splatters to one person, but if anyone else did those splatters, it wouldn’t be the same. Anybody can write a bunch of notes, but it won’t be like Sondheim writes them.”