Into the Woods to explore the darker side of fairy tales

What happens after “happily ever after”? Find out when the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences presents Into the Woods — Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical amalgam of fairy tale favorites — as its spring mainstage production.

Emily Grosland as Little Red Riding Hood and Ben Ogilvie as the Wolf in the Performing Arts Department’s production of *Into the Woods* at Edison Theatre in early April.

Performances in Edison Theatre will begin at 8 p.m. April 1-2; 2 p.m. April 3; 8 p.m. April 8-9; and 2 p.m. April 10.

In addition, the PAD will present “An Interview With James Lapine” at 7 p.m. April 1 in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre. (see story below)

Weaving together a host of familiar themes and characters, Into the Woods centers on the Baker and his Wife (Justin Huebener and Amy Schwarz), who have been placed under a curse of childlessness by their neighbor, the Witch (Cheryl Howard).

To lift the curse, the couple must bring the Witch four magical items: a cow as white as milk; a cape as red as blood; hair as yellow as corn; and a slipper as pure as gold.

Yet the quest goes well, and by the end of Act I the couple has secured the necessary items from Jack (as in “the beanstalk,” played by Chris Jensen), Little Red Riding Hood (Emily Grosland), Rapunzel (Alecia Long) and Cinderella (Kameron Averitt), while helping each to fulfill their own goals and desires. The Giant is slain, the Wolf (Ben Ogilvie) is killed, damsels and princes are reunited.

Even the Witch, freed from a spell of ugliness, is revealed as a stunning beauty.

The end? Not quite.

In Act II, matters grow considerably more complicated. The Baker and his wife squabble over baby care. Rapunzel’s Prince (Chris Wilson) falls for Snow White (Liz Neukirch). Cinderella’s Prince (Ben Ogilvie again) falls for Sleeping Beauty (Luciana Bonifazi).

The Witch loses her powers. The Giant’s wife descends to earth, demanding vengeance and destroying houses.

“Act I is about getting what you wish for,” said William Whitaker, senior artist-in-residence, who directs the cast of 21. “It’s light and funny and immensely entertaining. Act II pushes things further, as if real life were intruding upon these characters.

“It basically asks, ‘What happens when we get what we wish for and still aren’t happy?'”

Whitaker pointed out that Lapine and Sondheim were deeply influenced by Bruno Bettelheim’s book The Uses of Enchantment, which explores the underlying psychology of fairy tales, their moral lessons and deeper resonances.

“Fairy tales do have a darker side,” Whitaker said. “In a way, that’s the point of the play. If Act I is about simplicity, Act II is about embracing complexity. It’s about facing life and making tough decisions and not giving up, because that’s how you achieve clarity.”

The lavish set — by Christopher Pickart, artist-in-residence — was designed to pull a kind of theatrical “double duty,” appearing last fall in professional production at The Clarence Brown Theatre in Knoxville, Tenn., before being brought to St. Louis, where it has been adapted to the Edison stage.

Costumes are by senior Megan Morey. Musical director is Lisa Campbell, lecturer in music in Arts & Sciences.

Choreography is by Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal, senior artist-in-residence and director of the Ballet Program. Lighting is by David Vogel, technical director for the PAD.

Tickets are $12 — $8 for students, senior citizens and WUSTL faculty and staff — and are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets.

For more information, call 935-6543.

Co-writer Lapine to speak before April 1 premiere

Veteran Broadway writer, librettist and director James Lapine will introduce the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences’ production of Into the Woods, his 1987 collaboration with Stephen Sondheim, with a talk at 7 p.m. April 1.

Moderated by director William Whitaker, senior artist-in-residence in the PAD, “An Interview with James Lapine” is free and open to the public and will take place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre in Mallinckrodt Student Center.

James Lapine
James Lapine

The premiere performance will begin at 8 p.m. in Edison Theatre.In addition to Into the Woods, Lapine served as librettist for Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George (1985) and Passion (1995). He collaborated with William Finn on March of the Falsettos (1981), Falsettoland (1990), A New Brain (1998) and, most recently, The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee, which will move to Broadway this spring.

Other Broadway credits include directing Michel Legrand’s Amour (2002); David Henry Hwang’s Golden Child (1998); and the 1997 revival of The Diary of Anne Frank. With writer Claudia Shear, Lapine conceived and directed Dirty Blonde (2000).

In 1999, he wrote the book and directed Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which premiered in Berlin and ran for three years. In 2004, he directed Daniel Goldfarb’s off-Broadway hit Modern Orthodox.

Lapine has written five plays: Table Settings (1979); Twelve Dreams (1978); Luck, Pluck & Virtue (1993); The Moment When (2000); and Fran’s Bed (2003).

He has directed television productions of Into the Woods (1991) and Passion (1996) as well as the films Impromptu (1991), with Hugh Grant and Judy Davis; Life With Mikey (1993), with Michael J. Fox; and Earthly Possessions (1999), with Susan Sarandon.

Lapine has won three Tony Awards, having been nominated 10 times.Other honors include five Drama Desk Awards; an Obie Award; the British Evening Standard Award; an Olivier Award; and the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for drama.

For more information, call 935-5858.