Civic Theatre taking on classic ‘Into the Woods’
Fairy tales intertwine as first-time director has strong performers
Closing out their 95th season, Fort Wayne Civic Theatre brings us their revival of the 1987 classic Into the Woods, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. Their timing is fortunate, as Into the Woods was revived on Broadway last year, and the new cast recording just won the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.
“I think that it’s a continuously relatable show,” said Capri Williams, director of the production. “Regardless of how many times you’ve seen it done in different ways and with different people, the relevance of the relationships and themes are there that each generation can tap into. Behind the work of award-winning composer Sondheim, almost every piece you look at, there’s some form of relatable message to the community that you can tap into, and I think that’s true for our production as well.”
The Civic Theatre production opens Saturday, May 6, at Arts United Center, running through Sunday, May 14.
Sondheim passed away in 2021 at the age of 91, and performers everywhere have given tributes to his songs and his many works. Fort Wayne’s vocal group Heartland Sings gave us their revue, Sondheim Café, in October. As Civic Theatre’s production was planned a couple years ago, it’s all coming together at the right time.
“I think that just makes it even more special for us because everyone is touched by Steven Sondheim, even if they know it or they don’t,” Williams said. “This is a way for us to honor him and his work in the way that he’s found a spot in our lives.”
It’s hard to say anything about this show that has not already been said, yet we don’t want to give out spoilers.
Lapine and Sondheim created a classic ensemble musical with 20 cast members sharing equally in some rich storytelling. It starts out with a lot of humor, then runs off into the woods to some mighty strange places.
Lapine’s book for Into the Woods is based on fairy tales as collected and published by the Brothers Grimm in Germany in the 1800s.
At the opening, three or four stories unfold in parallel: Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood. A house with a baker and his wife, next to the garden of a witch, stands at the intersection of the stories. Rapunzel is off in a tower in the woods. Everybody has something they wish for, an errand or a quest that sends them from the relative safety of their homes “into the woods.” The stories develop from there as the characters find their plot lines converging.
Sondheim’s brilliant music starts out with the large cast of individuals singing fragments of melodies that are densely intertwined as their stories are interwoven. This isn’t a show with long, show-stopping solo songs; it’s all about ensembles. Groups form and are broken up at a dizzying pace as characters enter and exit. The classical musician in me hears the way Sondheim writes the vocal lines as being inspired by Mozart’s comic operas, and I mean that as a great compliment. Fairy tales, Mozart, the Brothers Grimm, Sondheim — all these stories and characters carry a thread of human experience through today.
After a whirlwind of events and quests achieved, everything seems neatly resolved, and every character is looking forward to “happily ever after,” when it’s apparent that it’s only intermission. In the second half of the show, the surviving characters face new challenges and dangers in a darker post-modern deconstruction of the fairy-tale tropes. Bittersweet happy endings are still a ways off.
“What a great cast we have,” Williams said. “We have 21 actors within the show. I have a voice actor doing the Giant’s voice. I have a puppeteer doing Milky White, our beloved cow. I also am so excited that we’ve got about half of the cast making their Civic Theatre debut.”
We can’t name all of them here, so Williams lists a few.
“Martel Harris, he’s playing the Baker, and this is his first Civic Theatre show,” she said. “He has done a lot of theater and vocal performances in Fort Wayne. We’re also welcoming back some veterans. Darby LeClear is playing the Baker’s Wife. We have Lincoln Everetts playing Jack. He was recently seen as Buddy in Elf this past Christmas, and he was also SpongeBob last summer. We’ve got a mix of new talent and veterans.”
Williams has made her career as a choreographer, and she continues to work professionally with other community groups in this area. She’s done several productions with Fort Wayne Civic Theatre.
“I choreographed and assistant-directed The SpongeBob Musical last summer,” she said. “We just won an Arts United award for that production. “I assistant-directed and choreographed The Christmas Schooner, which was in 2021.
In 2020, Civic Theatre put on a full staging of Legally Blonde at Foellinger Theatre with a limited, socially distanced audience. Williams not only choreographed the show, but had to step in and take the lead role of Elle at the last minute, “which was fun.”
As this is her first time in the director’s chair, she appreciates the team supporting her.
“(Music Director Mindy Cox) helped co-found Summit City Music Theatre, here in Fort Wayne, and she knows this show probably better than anyone I’ve ever met in my life,” Williams said. “She has just been an amazing collaborator to work with.
“I also have Eric Smead, my assistant director, and same thing goes with him. To have three brains to work on something like this has been a blessing for sure because it’s just such a big show.”
The thing about going Into the Woods is that you might be a changed person when you come out the other side. But don’t worry, the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s cast will be there to guide you. Watch out for wolves on two legs, flocks of birds, devious handsome princes, and especially giants. Oops, I said “no spoilers,” didn’t I?