Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” brought to Lowe stage

Video by Yasmin Stein

“Into the Woods” seemed like the perfect musical to perform amid a pandemic: small cast and minimal choreography. Little did Director Jamie Stires-Hardin know how complicated staging a musical during a pandemic would turn out to be.

First performed on Broadway in 1987 with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, “Into the Woods” is an amalgamation of classic fairy tales. A film version of the show was released in 2014 starring Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt. 

Originally six performances were to be staged outdoors on the Great Lawn over two weekends, but on Feb. 1, it was announced that only four shows would be performed, indoors, in the Lowe Theater. With only 75 audience members allowed in the 650-seat auditorium, every show sold out less than two hours after going on sale Feb. 26.

The Theater Department chose the musical with Covid-19 guidelines in mind: the smaller cast allowed for less physical contact between performers as well as a chance to highlight fantastical elements in the set.

We’ve needed something uplifting.

— Victoria Arizpe

“We wouldn’t be able to do it in a normal year because it wouldn’t have accommodated the number of students we have interested in theater,” Stires-Hardin said.

Actors were required to rehearse and perform while wearing clear masks, which for some restricted their emotional and vocal range.  

“There are places where I have to kiss people; there are places where we have to hug,” said senior Meridian Monthy, who played the Baker’s Wife. “The social distancing guidelines inhibit my performance because a lot of the natural things that I want to do cannot happen.”

Set design was also a challenge, according to Technical Director Thomas Murphy, who began designing the set in October. Usually, set construction is a collaborative effort involving around 20 cast and crew members.

As usual, members of Johnnycake, the School’s theater club, helped Murphy build the set, but this year only five were allowed to participate.

Because the Lowe Theatre is used for classes most of the school day, the set pieces had to be stored offstage.

Katina Christensen played Jack’s Mother in “Into the Woods.” Because the show took place indoors, all actors wore large, clear face masks. (Yasmin Stein)

“It’s a very simple set,” said junior Tanner Watson, who played the Baker. “There is a lot of action based in one vague location of the woods, so it makes sense that the set’s not super complex.”

Incorporating the balconies of the Lowe Theater into its design, the set consisted of a series of steps and platforms accented with forest-themed pieces. 

“Compared to previous years, the set has fewer elements and less detail-oriented pieces,” Murphy said. “It just needs to have the atmosphere of a forest.”

Senior Jenny Green, who played Granny and Cinderella’s Mother, said that assembling the set would have been easier if more students could have helped. 

Music and dance rehearsals were also affected by social-distancing guidelines. 

“So far we’ve had big singing rehearsals where we’re all outside and socially distant, but at the end of the day, it’s a regular singing rehearsal – just more spaced out,” Monthy said.

Choreographer Victoria Arizpe appreciated having the ability to perform a spring musical.

“I am excited to take the musical inside with a smaller group,” Arizpe said prior to opening night. “We’ve needed something uplifting. I’m looking forward to having as much normalcy as we can.”