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Centre Stage’s ‘Into The Woods’ Explores The Reality Beyond Happily Ever After

Penn State Centre Stage will return with its latest production, “Into the Woods,” opening March 2 in the Playhouse Theatre.

Written by James Lapine, “Into the Woods” explores the grave reality behind the timeless notion of “once upon a time.” With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the comedic musical is notoriously difficult to present onstage and has challenged young artists with its classical excellence since its creation in 1987.

Featuring iconic storybook characters, Into the Woods takes a deeper look at the individuals behind the fairy tales through the lens of honest humanity. While the audience is bound to recognize some characters from tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood, the result of their combined stories is far different from anything read in your favorite childhood picture book.

“Weaving together these characters’ stories of maturation, Into the Woods stages journeys of learning, comparing a trek into the mysterious woods to the pursuit of knowledge,” production dramaturg Arushi Grover wrote. 

Linking all the classics together is an original story by Lapine, featuring a humble Baker and his Wife. Cursed by “the Witch from next door” to remain childless for life, the couple sets out into the woods to protect their doomed bloodline. 

Through “The Witch’s Rap,” the Witch directs the couple to find four ingredients to reverse her spell, including “the cow as white as milk,” “the cape as red as blood,” “the hair as yellow as corn,” and “the slipper as pure as gold.”

Searching the never-ending forest for these items, the couple encounters Jack, Little Red, Cinderella, and more as they travel through their respective fables. As each quest becomes increasingly intertwined, the group finds peace and prosperity by Act One finale, “Happily Ever After.”

But everyone is not “So Happy” for long, and tragedy strikes. In search of revenge, an angry giant is destroying the land and shaking down the entire kingdom with her booming footsteps. 

As the woods turn into a brutal battlefield, it’s now up to the fairy tale characters to write their own story. 

“These fairy tale characters need to learn a real-world lesson — the really important challenges we face require us to work in community with others, and for the greater good,” director Rick Lombardo wrote.

Featuring one of the most iconic scores in all of theatre history, including “No One Is Alone” and “Children Will Listen,” Centre Stage’s production creates a magical universe suitable for even the biggest Sondheim fan. The intricate set design also includes a leveled and rotating stage, allowing characters to travel through the woods right before the audience’s eyes. 

Choreography by Christopher Campbell also adds new light to the work, creatively structured throughout the title song as unity for diverse characters. Performed together by the full cast in tandem with the live orchestra, the unison movement adds to the mysticism of the fantasy land.

Telling the tale of humanity behind fairytales onstage, Into the Woods houses lessons comparable to the college student’s growth. 

“Many at Penn State are learning how to be part of a community, as the characters of ‘Woods’ learn in the second act,” Grover wrote. “In recent years, we’ve been forced to consider how our breath expresses not only desire but also causes danger.”

Portraying lessons of life through depictions of fantasy, the production reveals insight into one key theme: When it all quite literally comes crashing down, we must work together beyond our own stories to ensure a tomorrow for all. 

Into the Woods will run from March 2 through March 3 and from March 14 to March 18 in the Playhouse Theatre. A trigger warning is in place for smoke effects and lighting. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door and range from $12.50 to $25. 

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a junior majoring in Marketing and Psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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