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Fairy tales come true, with songs too, in Musical Forum play

Entwining a collection of beloved fairy tale stories, "Into the Woods," a musical showing at T. F. Green Hall this weekend directed by Alexandra Keegan '12, is an invitation to an exciting fantastical realm woven with symbolic real-life elements.

Blending the characters of the baker and his wife with the tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel, the two-and-a-half-hour musical portrays the characters' pursuits for objects and people they most desire.

In act one, narrator Brian Cross '12 introduces the desires of the characters. Central to the musical is the story of the baker, amiably played by Ben Freeman '13 and his wife, portrayed alluringly by Katelyn Miles '11, who must fulfill the wish of the Witch, played with ardent fervor by Emma Price '10. The Witch has cast a curse on the baker and his wife's house, and requires them to collect four objects in the woods before they can have the child they have long desired.

Into the woods they go, encountering other fairy tale characters in search of the things they want. For example, Cinderella, played lovingly by Leah Cogan '13, longs deeply for her Prince, whom Ned Riseley '12 portrays with charm. Rapunzel, played with delight by Sami Horneff '12, longs for someone to take her away from the lonely tower where she is secluded.

The mood of the musical shifts from gaiety to sorrow as troubles arise and a giant descends from the sky in the second act. Plunged into chaos, blame and frustration, the characters all face problems of trust and morality, re-evaluations of what happiness means to them and the dire consequences of their own actions.

Most of the performance takes place on one central elevated platform. With the platform, the steps and the background covered in earth-colored cloth as well as branches and leaves to mimic the woods, the set easily absorbs the audience into the story.

Indeed, the audiences are themselves a part of the musical experience and the stage, where actors enter and exit often without warning and seemingly from nowhere. From each aisle to every corner, the actors seek to place the audience in the woods, to have them feel just as disoriented and engaged as the characters in the story.

Permeating throughout are themes of family, friendship and community. For example, Jack, played with deliberately subtle humor by Kyle Dacuyan '11, frustrates his mother, played equally humorously by Allison Schneider '10, with his slow-wittedness. There is the loving yet sometimes tense relationship between the baker and his wife, as well as the bond of friendship formed between Little Red Riding Hood, played with delight and absolute cuteness by Nora Rothman '13, and Jack.

Despite incessant, sometimes even reckless pursuits to fulfill their wishes, and despite the sorrows these quests bring, the characters nevertheless imbue the story with a great sense of humor that throws the audience into gusts of giggles.

Jack's slow response to his surroundings and his sudden, exciting gestures of shock at the offer of magical beans, the absurd vanity of Cinderella's stepsisters — portrayed with ridiculous humor by Sarah Brandon '13 and Hannah Sisk '13 — and Little Red Riding Hood's loud, obnoxious tantrum that rocks the stage to trembles provide delight and happiness that further coalesce the audience's emotional experience with that of the characters.

Musically directed by David Brown '12, the story is further ingrained into the audience's memory by the speed, complexity and dynamism of the music.

It is no surprise that Brown has taken on this musical, whose creator gave a lecture in Salomon earlier in the semester. "Stephen Sondheim is the greatest American musical composer and lyricist," Brown said. "He has such a great gift of words. His music is so complex. Its complexity really appeals to me."

A powerful piece is "Last Midnight," a solo by the Witch. "In this song, she has this emotional arc," Brown observed. "It's about letting out all those feelings."

"The music is so catchy. You walk away whistling," added Brady Waibel '12, who, with great humor, plays Rapunzel's sweet and dreamy Prince and Cinderella's father.
Waibel, along with Cinderella's arrogant Prince, sing the distinguished and memorable song "Agony." Characterized by slow rhythm and emotional uptake, the song fluidly expresses these two characters' heart-wrenching desperation for the women they desire. "It's about loving something you can't have," Waibel said.

Waibel hopes the audience sees and becomes aware of the closeness that develops between characters.

The story also has important underlying meanings relevant to real-life experiences.
"I hope (audience members) see parallels in their lives. Even though situations are fantastical, they have real-life elements," Waibel said.

Price said she hopes "the audience will feel comforted and appreciate what's in their lives," and will be inspired and empowered to fulfill their share of social responsibilities.

To Brandon, the play's realistic element is the lack of absolute good or evil in a character, such as the Witch, who brings a love that is not expected. "It brings out the gray areas," Brandon said.

To Keegan, what is so magical about the musical is this exact element of humanity. In the end, characters each shed their fairy tale quests and come together to form a community, a bond that is both fantastical and profoundly human, she said.

Keegan also relates the musical to the Brown community. "It touches things we do when we are in college," she said. She likened the relationship between Little Red and Jack to new friendships that students form as freshmen.

The musical has a childhood sentiment of "I just want to be your friend," Keegan said, adding that it is "beautiful" how the characters have "grown so much throughout the show."
Despite the seeming intricacy and complexity of the story, "it is fun. It's a fairy tale," she said.


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