Into the Woods: What happens after you get what you want?

May 13, 2013

Rudi Goddard (left) as Cinderella and Julia Smucker (right) as Little Red Riding Hood
Rudi Goddard (left) as Cinderella and Julia Smucker (right) as Little Red Riding Hood
Credit Kalamazoo College

Kalamazoo College’s Festival Playhouse is kicking off their 50th anniversary Thursday with the musical Into the Woods. Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine is about what happens to the characters in Grimm’s fairy tales after the ‘happily ever after.’ 

Director Ed Menta says the play carries on the legacy of the playhouse founder Nelda K. Balch, whose goal was to make thoughtful, provocative theatre. Menta says the tales are surprising, humorous, and sometimes disturbing. For example, just like in the original Grimm’s Cinderella, the step sisters have their toes and heels cut off to fit into the slipper. 

“Cinderella in the second act has just wed the prince,” says K-College student Rudi Goddard describing her character. “And she’s kind of trying to figure out how to fit into palace life, which she realizes maybe doesn’t suit her very well or she’s not very well suited to after all.”

Things just aren’t the same for the other fairy tale characters either. Little Riding Hood, played by Julia Smucker, loses her innocent nature and starts carrying around a big knife.

“She becomes street smart,” says Smucker. “I don’t know if she goes looking for trouble, but she enjoys battling the giant. I think she enjoys the trouble she finds in a way.”

Even the laypeople are having a hard time. The musical is framed around a baker and his wife who want to have a baby. Malcolm Brown plays the role of the baker.

“He is this kind of like timid character who’s desperately in love with his wife, but doesn’t feel like he can really satisfy her in a lot of ways,” he says. “He feels like he’s short coming in a lot of ways.”

And so, while the baker’s away, another man tries to swoop in. Director Ed Menta says composer Stephen Sondheim’s music in this play was groundbreaking for the time and also very complex.

“There’s constant changing of time signatures. There’s constant modulations or key changes,” he says. “There’s vocal parts that overlap and then some that are in counterpoint to each other. It’s really really sophisticated music to learn.”

McKenna Kring plays the role of the witch in the musical, one of the lead singing parts. She says the wide range of vocals that she sings actually reflects the complexity of her character.

“At the beginning it’s a lot of rap styles where it’s a lot of very quickly spoken words. Whereas the farther you go on she has a couple more ballad style songs and a couple more angry slow songs that range from being in the more soprano range to the more alto range depending on the mood that she’s trying to give. So there’s almost like three different personalities. She has like the angry evil witch that everyone hates, the loving witch to her daughter, and then the witch who has lost everything but has gained what she wanted but in a very skewed way. So it ends up being reflected in the music itself."

 Menta says there are two lessons in the second act of this musical. The first is that no one is alone and the second is this:

“A new community can be built if a traditional family community is breaking down,” Menta says.