A Magical Show: Into the Woods Comes to Life on Stage
From February 28 to March 3, the Hopkins Drama Association (HDA) performed the winter musical Into the Woods, directed and produced by Michael Calderone and Erika Schroth.
The musical, written by James Lapine with music composed by Stephen Sondheim, intertwines the plots of classic fairy tales like “Cinderella” (Erin Elbogen ’19), “Little Red Riding Hood” (Katie Broun ’19), “Jack and the Beanstalk” (Ty Eveland ’22), and “Rapunzel” (Isabel Vlahakis ’19). Each character has a wish they hope to be granted by the Witch (Fi Schroth-Douma ’19), but must deal with the unforeseen consequences of her powers.
Calderone explained his and Schroth’s decision for choosing Into the Woods for this year’s musical: “I’ve avoided this show for years for various reasons; mostly out of ignorance: it’s too long; it’s a bit of Broadway fluff; or so I thought! Mrs. Schroth sold me on it for all of the right reasons: we had the right voices and level of experience in the kids; the story really moves and while Act I could be a complete story, Act II gets serious in a very deep and engaging way. It is not fluff or trite.”
The first act of Into the Woods introduced the audience to each character and their wishes. Characters appeared content at the end of Act I; however, the second act reveals the dangers of borrowing the Witch’s magic. Broun said, “The first act of Into the Woods wraps up in a nice little bow, filled with happy endings and what everyone wants to hear about. However, life is not always filled with happy endings, which is displayed so beautifully throughout the second act. Filled with giants, terrors, fights, and finding out who to blame for the entire situation, the second act teaches us to be kind to each other and grow together as human beings, through the low and high times.”
Into the Woods is known for its tricky lyrics and difficult songs. “While of course quality singing is required for any musical, Sondheim’s score, both for the orchestra and the ensemble, is intricate and demanding, requiring actors to sing with more robust technique than the belting style of singing common in lots of other musicals,” said Sam Jenkins ’19 (the Baker). Ranease Brown ’21 (the Baker’s Wife) added, “I can say that learning the music for this show has been one of the most difficult tasks. Because Stephen Sondheim is such a musical genius, he creates some of the most difficult scores in comparison to other Broadway composers.”
The cast supported one another throughout the musical’s obstacles in rehearsals. Aaron Gruen ’21 (Cinderella’s Father) said, “There were rehearsals five days a week, and sometimes on weekends, and everyone was super committed to making the show a success. We had painting days, where the whole cast gets together to help paint the set, and we all put in work at home to make sure our lines were memorized. We all did small things for the cast, like bake and come to rehearsals for just a few lines, but they added up and I think the dedication showed in the musical.”
The cast began rehearsals in early January. Jenkins spoke about the commitment of HDA: “HDA really feels like a family, but one that’s constantly expanding and welcoming new members during every show we put on. Whether you’re doing sound, are in the ensemble, or have the lead in a particular show, there’s a place for everyone in the HDA family. It will be the community I’ll miss most when I leave Hopkins.”
Cast members often took on multiple roles to put together the musical. The intricate set design required many hours of work from the cast. Graley Turner ’20 not only played the role of Jack’s mother, but also spent time creating the forest scenery. “What really makes this set unique is that we’ve all been a part of the construction and painting,” said Turner. “At any point during the day, you could walk into Lovell and see Mike Calderone and a handful of students (in and out of the cast) working on the book titles or spines, the interiors of the large fats that act as houses, or the prop cow we have.”
Into the Woods actors and actresses were not the only Hopkins students to lend a hand with the stage design. Other members of the Hopkins community also helped with set design. Audrey Braun ’19 had never worked with HDA on the production of a show before Into the Woods. “The set was really intricate so it was a lot of painting and mixing paints,” Braun noted. “Raven Levine ‘19 and Mike really did a great job of designing the sets to put the audience right there in the story book. I think the audience loved how whimsical it looked!”
For the first time in his career, Calderone rented a backdrop for the musical’s set. He described his hopes for bringing the set to life, “The idea [that] developed between me and Cathy Mason, our costumer, was that the characters literally and figuratively get pulled out of their storybooks. She represents that with costume pieces made out of actual books (look at costume details like Cinderella’s bodice, the princes’ shoulder decorations or blouses printed with text.) I hope the set transported the audience to a bookshelf in a child’s room. There are stacks of giant books on either side of the stage and three open books as the backdrop of the three main story lines. But these characters are forced out of their books and literally into the forest.
HDA’s attention to detail was evident in every aspect of the musical. Drew Slager ’21, who managed props, said, “Working with props was a very rewarding task because I was able to explore the nooks and crannies of Lovell Hall and develop more of a connection with the theater and those who spend their time there. It was very interesting working in a different aspect of the show that I have not experienced before, and I have a whole new appreciation for how hard the people behind the stage work so the actors can shine. I definitely look forward to working with tech again.”
Hannah Szabo ’21, who worked on sound, said, “Helping Joey Rebeschi ’21 and Sawyer Maloney ’21 with sound has been a lot of fun. Abraham Kirby-Galen has been such a good instructor, teaching us all about the new sound system. There’s a ton of characters, cues, and sound effects in the show, but with Rebeschi on mics, Maloney on sound effects, Kara Amar ’19 on the light board, and Leul Abate ’19 as production manager, the whole process went really smoothly.”
The hard work of everyone involved was evident in all four performances of the show. Brown said, “Into the Woods will go down in Hopkins history as one of the best, and longest, productions to ever be performed!”