Every school year there are many theater productions, but perhaps the most highly anticipated theater event is the annual Cap and Bells musical. This year’s musical, Into the Woods, combines terrific singing, competent acting and effective staging in a treat for the eyes and the ears. Composed by Steven Sondheim, one of Williams’s most prestigious graduates, Into the Woods is another rousing success for the Cap and Bells team and for all of the students involved.
Sondheim’s musical is a long and arduous work, lasting around four hours and testing the talents of the actors and actresses with its difficult music and intricate plot. Essentially, it is a melange of four different fairy tales, mixing characters and story lines to create a single comic, yet tragic, plot. It is deeper than the average musical, despite its seemingly simplistic and childish appeal. The musical tests the boundaries of the stories told to us when we were young, changing and altering them in a way that more resembles real life while retreating further into fantasy.
Completely student-run, the musical is directed by Rob Seitelman ’01, who first proposed the play to Cap and Bells. Seitelman has a particular affection for Sondheim’s work: he recalls saying to Sondheim eight years ago, “Mr. Sondheim, my name is Robert Seitelman and I am going to do one of your shows someday.” Sara Richardson ’01 serves as Assistant Director, Ryan McNaughton ’01 as Musical Director and Cris Santiestevan ’00 as Stage Manager. Actors and actresses were chosen on the basis of an individual audition, during which they sang a solo from a musical, worked some tonal memory and give a cold reading of dialogue. They were then called back to read for specific characters.
Into the Woods revolves around the trials and tribulations of Cinderella, Jack (of beanstalk fame), Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. In the first act, their stories are interwined as characters meet and meddle in each other’s lives. We are introduced by a narrator to three of the plots as signified by three different roofs hanging over three groups of people.
The first song skillfully switches from person to person and from plot to plot, portraying to the audience the common discontent of all of the characters. First Cinderella (Phoebe Geer ’01) is shown slaving away for her malevolent stepmother and stepsisters. Then Jack (Karl Hein ’02) enters as a poor boy unsuccessfully attempting to milk his beloved cow, Milky White (Keiko Woliver ’02), while his mother (Sara Caswell ’00) looks on. Lastly, we meet the Baker and his wife (Seb Arcelus ’99 and Alicia Currier ’00), who are selling pastries to an impish Little Red Riding Hood (Rachel Axler ’99). The alternations from scenario to scenario provide a little glimpse into each household’s situation, setting up the plots to come.
The Baker and his wife, we discover, desire more than anything to have a child. However, they are visited by a witch (hilariously played by Matt Sandoval ’99) who reveals that she has placed a curse on the Baker’s family line because the his father had once dared to steal her greens from her garden (revealing the connection to Rapunzel, played by Sarah Hart ’02). To remove the curse, the witch says, they must bring her four items: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold. Only if these items have been received within three midnights will the witch remove the curse. As the Baker heads off into the woods to attempt to remove the curse placed upon his family line, the two other main characters turn up: Cinderella seeks peace by speaking to her dead mother’s grave, while Jack passes through with Milky White in order to reach the market, where the cow is to be sold.
At this moment, the curtain that has served as the backdrop for the first scene is lifted, and a beautiful forest set is revealed. Complete with a castle turret and trees of variegating heights, behind which stairs are hidden, it perfectly accents the woodland adventures to come.
In the woods, characters and plotlines intermingle in a nature-inspired mayhem inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For example, the Baker sees the “cow as white as milk” and offers to sell to Jack five “magic” beans that had been in his family for years. The Baker also encounters the lascivious Wolf (Lucas Peterson ’01) while attempting to steal Little Red Riding Hood’s red cape. His wife, meanwhile, discusses love and romance with Cinderella, while the two Princes (Rapunzel’s and Cinderella’s) discuss the agony of desire. All throughout these adventures, the witch is constantly running in and yelling instructions, adding a comic effect to the scenes.
As complex as that plot may be, that only summarizes the first part of the musical. At the end of the first act, the characters are all in their typically “happily ever after” positions. The Prince has found his Cinderella, Rapunzel has saved her blind Prince, Jack and his mother are living off of gold eggs and a singing harp and the Baker’s wife is happily pregnant. The rest of the musical explores the dirty consequences of their previous actions as well as the questions of what happens after fairy tales end. The Prince, for example, cheats on Cinderella with another woman, while Rapunzel goes mad and leaves her husband.
The cast has been working incredibly hard, rehearsing up to four hours, six nights a week, to meet the strenuous demands of the musical. However, according to Seitelman, “the cast is a triple threat. The combination of beautiful voices, great acting and graceful movement is something that I have never seen. They have put their heart into the show.” As for the show itself, Seitelman states, “This show is going to amaze and provoke audiences. Don’t go into the theater expecting not to think.”
The play is being performed on the Mainstage of Adams Memorial Theatre on March 5th at 8 p.m. and March 6th at 2 and 8 p.m.