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March 8, 2011

UT shows that even fairy tales must grow up

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Nothing marks the switch from childhood to adulthood more clearly than going to college. Discovering that bills must be paid, time must be managed, and food doesn’t magically appear every morning are all great trials we face when leaving home. But there is no other way to achieve our goals than to make this metaphorical trek “into the woods.” This week, University Theatre presents the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods in a performance that addresses coming of age.

Musicals are not common UT productions—there is only one (maybe two) a year. Fourth-year director William Glick and his cast and crew strove to make this one as exceptional as possible. In fact, Glick hopes that Into the Woods will lead to a greater musical presence on campus.

“This is the first mainstream musical that has been student —done,” said Glick.

He explained that UT has grown rapidly over the past few years, and as a show, Into the Woods encapsulates that growth. The cast and crew, he claims, have been willing and capable to go that extra mile to make this play a success.

“This is a big show in many ways,” said fourth-year sound designer Ren Belcher, who remarked not only on the size of the cast and crew, but also on the addition of a sound team. Belcher considers their hardest role to be “creating” characters that cannot be seen.

“We take abstract characters and make them real with sound,” said Belcher. For example, though a giant never actually appears on stage, his intimidating aura is created by various booms and his disembodied voice.

Into the Woods is a musical with two acts, which together tell the tale of the quest of a baker and his wife, who start the musical with a single wish. Along with the help of fairy—tale characters such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (as in Jack and the Beanstalk), and many others, they achieve their wish. Yet they must then learn how to live with exactly what they’ve always dreamed of but never thought they would receive. The musical asks its audience what fairy tales take for granted: “You’ve just gotten everything you’ve ever wanted, so now what?”

The musical plays with this question as its plot revolves around leaving one’s childhood world and entering adulthood. In order to assert the theme of growing up, the set design team incorporated many things one associates with childhood—hobby horses, toy wagons—that essentially create a playground on stage. In contrast, most of the characters wear contemporary fairy tale costumes that clash with the set to provide a symbolic backdrop for all the coming-of-age stories presented on stage.

“I think [the set design] highlights how the show is about growing up, loss of innocence, leaving childhood behind,” said third-year Markie Gray, who plays the Baker’s wife. Gray describes her character as half of the “non-fairy tale” duo who, along with the Baker, played by fourth-year Adam Rosenthal, goes on a journey to adulthood. But they are not the only characters to grow up.

The witch, played by third-year Amanda Jacobson, is one of the many characters that must come to terms with their true selves. What makes the witch different, though, is that she is an old woman already at the start of the show. But she must still evolve and learn to cope with the trials of adulthood. Jacobson explains that the witch, and many other characters, must learn to cope with the consequences of their actions—a side effect of personal growth that college students definitely see every day.

“A lot of the characters have difficulty making choices,” said Jacobson, “Adulthood is about making choices.”

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