While a winter wonderland descended over campus last weekend, FSU’s Hilltop Players were busy in DPAC putting on a fantastical display of their own, with their production of Stephen Sondheim’s acclaimed musical, “Into the Woods.”
Thursday was the show’s first of a four-night run, and the audience consisted of over 100 eager patrons.
At just past 7:30 p.m., the lights dimmed, the curtain was lifted, and the small but strong musical pit initiated the show with a bright chime, as the Narrator, played by Kyle Hicks, delivered the appropriate opening line:
“Once upon a time…”
The first song set the scene for the show’s plot, which becomes almost equally as complex as the demanding musical score.
“Into the Woods” follows the tale of four fantasy heroes: Cinderella, Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk), Little Red Riding Hood and the Baker, as they all journey through the perilous wood for various motives.
Sondheim’s musical required tight synchronization from the actors, who often gave overlapping lines, which had to be timed perfectly to land on tempo with the pit’s rapid pace.
The ensemble’s achievement of this goal is a testament to the actors’ hard work in rehearsal, but perhaps even more of a credit to the show’s student director, sophomore Danielle Umanita.
In her director’s note, Umanita writes, “If you told me last year I would be directing a show as huge and musically challenging as ‘Into the Woods’, I would’ve called you crazy. … I had no idea what I was doing. What I did have, however, was a passion for theater.”
Any Sondheim musical would be no easy undertaking for even a professional director, so Umanita’s ability to assemble a fully realized production was impressive.
The first act consisted of 19 songs, most featuring multiple ensemble members, but with a few powerful solos and duets, including Jack’s song, reveling at the discovery of a giant’s castle at the top of the beanstalk, “Giants in The Sky.”
One of the funnier moments in the show came in the song “Agony,” a hysterically ironic duet by the two Princes, wallowing in the frustrating perpetual chase they must undergo to win their beloveds.
One of the most interesting features of “Into the Woods” is its story structure, which fools you into thinking everything is resolved and happy by the end of act one.
While this is partially true, and many audience members had looks of confusion as they exited for the 15-minute intermission, thinking the characters should surely be living happily ever after already, the tale is far from over.
They still have a giant problem – a Lady Giant, that is.
Act two ran much quicker than act one, with only about half as many songs to get through. This gives the musical an even more chaotic feel, as plot elements are literally being thrown together onstage, with characters running back and forth, singing and speaking almost as fast as they are moving.
The rush is pleasantly broken up with periodic moments of tranquility, such as when the Baker’s Wife wanders off, trying to find Jack, and finds herself face to face with one of the lovesick Princes.
Their song, “Any Moment,” performed by juniors Marielle Sciore and Mike Terra, finds Cinderella’s Prince attempting to seduce the Baker’s Wife, who, baffled, sings, “I’m in the wrong story!”
Several more of these “Moments in the Woods” lead the show to its final song, “No One is Alone,” which explains the musical’s moral. Everything ends up happily, but still remaining somewhat ambiguous and with unexpected contrasts from the neat ending Sondheim lures his audience with in the first act.
Regardless, the emotional authenticity the entire ensemble performed with on opening night clearly impacted the audience, who, by the end of the curtain call, gave the company a rightfully earned standing ovation.