Saturday, July 12, 2014
Things I ALREADY Love About BLT's Into The Woods
I've been happily watching this show come together and largely keeping my mouth shut about it. We open two weeks from last night. Two weeks from this moment, I will be backstage at Odell Williamson Auditorium. I like that idea. So, I'm going to list a few of the other things that make me happy about this show, and particularly Brunswick Little Theatre's production of it.
1. The Writing
James Lupine is credited with "the book" on this show. That's, to my simple understanding of musicals, the words between the songs. I imagine he and Stephen Sondheim worked together hand and glove with the lyrics and spoken word bits. The story is told largely in song, so they had to. It really worked, in ways I truly admire as an aspiring writer.
During the opening number, there's a knock on the door to The Baker's cottage. His Wife asks who it is and The Baker responds in a way that sums up so clearly where this journey is taking us. Into The Woods is largely about normal people's responses to unusual situations. It is a great mix of the fantastic and the mundane, both feeding our imagination and relating to us in ways we can completely identify with ourselves. The Baker and his Wife take it for granted there's a witch next door, but it doesn't mean they completely buy into that part about "magic beans." That just strikes me as funny, they accept she's a witch but are suspicious that the beans she claims are magical really are more than just beans. The whole show and all the characters in it are like that. They are upset by a giant walking around their little world, but accept that giants sometimes do that. Cinderella talks to birds and her dead mother, but is shocked to see a giant beanstalk. It just goes to show that "impossible" is often in the eyes of the beholder.
I'm also in love with the idea that so few characters have names. The story is centered on The Baker and The Baker's Wife. Don't assume the show is sexist for identifying the female lead only as the wife of the male lead, the two Princes and called Cinderella's Prince and Rapunzel's Prince. We also have The Witch, Granny, Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf, the Evil Stepmother, and Cinderella's Father. Cinderella and Rapunzel have names, of course, but they are so well-ingrained in our cultural identity that both are essentially meaningless as personal monikers. The only two "real names" in the show are the Evil Stepsisters Florinda and Lucinda, which I'm pretty sure speaks to some greater point, but I haven't figured it out yet. The lack of personal names lends the whole story a general appeal, as if it's about US and not just THEM. I'm sure that was the idea, and this isn't a new or particularly subtle way to go about generalizing one's lessons, but I love it nonetheless. There really is a bit of all these characters in all of us. We are greedy and cutthroat and kind and generous, we are clever and simple, we are loyal and fickle, we are brave and cowardly. And our children WILL listen, just as we did to our parents and their children will to them someday.
Jen decided to give this show a steampunk flair in its costumes and set, and it's looking great. If you aren't familiar with the term, steampunk refers to a sort of style based upon Victorian-age science fiction. It's Jules Verne-esque stuff, full of brass and airships and goggles and proto-industrial tech. Not to brag, but I was steampunk WAY before steampunk was cool. I was drawn as a young'un, totally mesmerized, to the 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea attraction in Disney's Tomorrowland. I mean, it was a submarine that looked like a big, metal fish. And you could see all the bolts! I loved blimps and airships. I had a Goodyear Blimp model in my room. I wore goggles and funky hats whenever I could get my hands on them. Back then I was weird. Today, it's a whole subculture and people are going to a lot of expense and trouble to look like I wanted to when I was 8. Jen has designed a whole show to fit my elementary school imagination, and I couldn't be happier to be a part of it.
3. The Costumes
I'll let them speak for themselves.
4. Milky White
Into The Woods features as a sort of character Jack's cow, Milky White. Milky White has been portrayed in different productions using everything from a big prop cow on wheels to an actor in a cow costume. Jen has chosen the middle road, an actor carrying a cow prop. It's a great idea as it gives the audience a cow but also allows an actor to portray the cow's, well, emotions. The cow goes through a lot. And the actor Jen chose, a teenager named Chase Costen, has totally embraced his bovine side. In rehearsals, I've seen him react with his face and body in logical ways to what the cow is doing and seeing. When they line up to do vocal warm-ups, Chase brings his cow. He gets that they are one piece, not a boy carrying a prop. It's a little thing, but it really tickles me.
That's about all I feel I can say right now. We build the set next Saturday and I am sure I will be adding that to my list. But I don't want to give too much away. You'll have to come see for yourself. Find out all about it here. You'll not be disappointed