Musical Theatre Club immerses itself in ‘Woods’

By Emma Kilcup

“Into the Woods”

Wedneday through Friday at 8… “Into the Woods”

Wedneday through Friday at 8 p.m.

Directed by Christy Savage

Studio Theater, Cathedral of Learning

Tickets free — two for each student with ID, $5 donations appreciated

Pitt Rep Box Office in Stephen Foster Memorial

It’s Friday night beneath the Cathedral of Learning, and Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Cinderella are holding hands, singing “Momma made me mash my M&Ms.” Though it might sound like an unlikely dream inspired by a recent trip to Disneyland, it’s actually a rehearsal exercise for the musical “Into the Woods.” The three fairytale characters will join their companions onstage to present a tale that proposes looking beyond “happily ever after.”

Pitt’s Musical Theatre Club and the United States Institute for Theatre Technology join together to present “Into the Woods,” directed by junior Christy Savage and produced by senior Amanda Kircher. The show marks the second musical performed by the Musical Theatre Club and the first collaboration with USITT.

The story’s beginning — “once upon a time” — is deceptively conventional, but once the stage is filled with a plethora of intermingling characters, there are inevitable twists in the cookie-cutter fairytale plot.

Katie Hutchinson, who plays Little Red Riding Hood, explained that “[‘Into the Woods’] starts off with several different fairytales, and the first act ends with a happily ever after. The second act begins with what happens after that — things fall apart and you have to deal with the consequences.”

Composer Stephen Sondheim’s musical presented a host of logistical challenges — in addition to using a cast of 21 and an orchestra of 11, the Musical Theatre Club had to prepare for the show in seven weeks. This time crunch, Savage said, forced the group to rehearse on Saturdays and maintain a sternly focused mentality.

“When my cast got the music and scripts, they just attacked it,” Savage said.

Sondheim’s music is ever-present, from Rapunzel and her prince serenading each other to the baker frantically searching for a cow as white as milk. Renowned for scores like “Sweeney Todd” and “West Side Story,” the composer strives to encompass a wide emotional spectrum. Ashley Adams, who plays the bass keyboard in the orchestra, affirmed this versatility.

“There are definitely songs that, when pulled off, will have you balling your eyes out. It can be very emotional,” Adams said.

The orchestra had to make considerable adjustments to accommodate Sondheim’s wishes. Although there is no French horn or bassoon, a trumpet, percussion and other necessary instruments are in attendance. Of course, with 75 musical numbers and 48 singing parts, the cast itself faced more than its fair share of difficulties.

Adams noted that the music “changes time signatures a lot,” and Savage described it as “rhythmically challenging.”

Gary Kline, associate teaching professor of musical theater at Carnegie Mellon, acknowledged the challenge of Sondheim’s music, stating in an e-mail, “The most significant feature of Sondheim’s music is the rhythm — it does not follow the normal meters found in most traditional musicals.  There’s a lot of irregularity that, quite frankly, is used to make the words clear — not just as a gimmick. The Witch’s song, ‘Stay with Me,’ from ‘Into The Woods’ is a perfect example of this … the rhythm changes to up the dramatic tension.”

According to Savage, the decision to preform “Into the Woods” was an easy one. “We have so much talent. We wanted an opportunity to highlight as many people as we can. We had more space and wanted to do something bigger.”

Although the cast and crew were only introduced to the musical in December, Savage had been envisioning and planning the show since October. Accordingly, the Musical Theatre Club has established a partnership with USITT that makes productions like “Into the Woods” possible by providing designers and more space.

As her directorial debut, Savage hopes “Into the Woods” will bring together theater junkies and anyone curious to see Rapunzel’s prince challenge Cinderella’s prince to a duet.