Bethlehem Press

Friday, January 24, 2020
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOBeth Schachter, director, “Into the Woods,” Empie Theatre, Muhlenberg College Copyright - KENNETH EK CONTRIBUTED PHOTOBeth Schachter, director, “Into the Woods,” Empie Theatre, Muhlenberg College Copyright - KENNETH EK

Curtain Rises: ‘Into the Woods’ challenges Muhlenberg College students

Friday, November 1, 2019 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

An alternative title for “into the Woods” could be “Into the Id.”

As defined in Sigmund Freud’s theoretical construct of the psyche, the id is uncoordinated instinctual desires, the super-ego is critical and moralizing, and the ego is the realistic mediator between the two.

There’s a lot of that back and forth going on with the characters in “Into the Woods.”

That’s just for openers in Stephen Sondheim’s and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” accurately described as “a darkly comic re-envisioning of classic Brothers Grimm fairy tales.”

The musical continues at 8 p.m. Nov. 1; 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 2, and 2 p.m. Nov. 3, Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, Allentown. The performances are sold-out.

The plots of several fairy tales, including “Little Red Ridinghood,” “Rapunzel,” “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Cinderella,” are interwoven.

For “Into the Woods” Director Beth Schachter, there’s also the not so little matter of putting on the show.

“The score is quite inclusive. It includes drum sounds for the Giant’s footsteps and fluttering sounds for the birds,” says Schachter, crediting the show’s Sound Designer Ian Scot.

“It’s a very demanding score, for the orchestra and the performers,” Schachter continues, crediting the show’s Music Director Ed Bara, who conducts the 15-piece orchestra,

“The 15-minute prologue is fairly demanding ... and then you have to go suddenly into the woods. This is a play in which people are always running around looking for each other. You have a space where people can get lost and look for each other.”

“The designers have been very imaginative,” says Schachter, crediting Scenic Designer Bryce Cutler, who created four sets of 20-foot tall trees.

“They look very flat on purpose. These enormous pieces of scenery have been cut out and move across the stage, a little bit like a maze.”

Schachter said that Lighting Designer Gertjan Houben also played an important role: “He was incredibly instrumental in figuring out the configuration of the trees. He has done a beautiful job of changing each scene. And there are many scenes.

“We want the audience to feel that they are traveling with the characters as they go on these occasionally hilarious adventures.”

In the post-#metoo movement era, the script of “Into the Woods” required a second look.

“For me and some of the performers and audience members, a kind sensitivity of the interaction of Little Red Ridinghood and the Wolf is different than it was 30 years ago on Broadway,” says Schachter.

“Within the scope of the lyrics and dialogue, we have respected the material but we have a little bit of a different interpretation.”

Schachter said she “found a way to treat it psychologically that is more interesting in light of female sexuality.

“The very beautiful song between the Mysterious Man, ‘No More’ ... It’s a very poetic piece where the Baker is singing ... And then he says life does have terrible destructive moments.

“You lose people you love. But you engage with new life, with new people. You can choose to have no feelings or choose to engage and have a life.

“it’s a nuanced production,” Schachter says.

“Into the Woods” has a cast of 20, many of whom have significant numbers in which to sing, dance and act.

“It’s just amazing to have so many challenging roles for students,” Schachter says.

Tickets: Muhlenberg College Department of Theatre & Dance box office, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 W. Chew St., Allentown; muhlenberg.edu/theatre; 484-664-3333