‘An American fairytale’: EmStage’s musical production of ‘Into the Woods’

Perspective+Photo+from+spring+2022+Into+the+Woods.+Photo+by+Craig+Bailey.

Perspective Photo from spring 2022 Into the Woods. Photo by Craig Bailey.

By Karissa Schaefer, Emerson Los Angeles Bureau Chief

The Cutler Majestic Theatre transformed into the storybook fairytale of “Into the Woods” for this year’s Emerson Stage’s spring musical. 

The three-hour-long show held three performances this past weekend on April 14 and 16. Primarily featured were numerous senior and junior musical theatre students, directed by professor Scott Lafeber and senior theatre major Emma Goldman. A twist from the English Stephen Sondheim classic, the directors’ version Americanized it by applying symbolism of the nation’s utilitarianism, as described in their program director’s note

This was clear upon entry into the theater as the projected title screen had “An American fairytale” subhead. Due to a sound system crash right before the show, a line of people wrapped around all the way to the Print and Copy Center, eagerly waiting for the doors to open. As everyone settled into their seats, the fake cow, named Milky White, was visible behind the front projection screen, offering a sneak peek of the “main character.” 

Perspective Photo from spring 2022 Into the Woods. Photo by Craig Bailey.

As senior Anania Williams stepped onto the stage to take power as the Narrator, he introduced the story’s main characters: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, a Baker and the Baker’s Wife, Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk, and the Witch. Though each cluster of characters was illuminated by different colored lighting to represent their various settings, the front screen made them just barely visible. For such a fun, opening number that gives context and shows the key players and their supporting characters, the screen’s extended duration was disappointing.

Despite the appreciation for the set designers’ dedication to the show and their opportunity to try something modern with digital pieces, the projection was rather distracting. Whenever the front screen was down, the framing was meant to symbolize the look of a storybook, a neat detail. However, when projections occurred on the back screen and the occasional fabric that would drop periodically from the ceiling, they would get washed out from the stage lighting.

[elementor-template id="60935"]

This ultimately wouldn’t be the biggest deal if there wasn’t a reliance on the projections to provide the biggest “Into the Woods” scene setter: trees. When the front screen lifted after the introduction, the stage finally became clearer, more lively, and bright. The lights hit the details of the tall wooden ladder and constructed wooden stairs made to emulate the atmosphere of the woods. What was missing were a few replicas of actual trees, that would’ve added a more physical dimension. 

Senior Amanda Vazquez pulled off Little Red seamlessly, convincing the audience that she’s a funny, yet annoying little girl. Her singing matched her acting talent, most notably during the high-pitched scream Red has at one point in the show. The ditziness was shown as she happily skipped away from the wolf, only to get eaten by him in their next scene together. The following scene erupted laughter from the audience, as Little Red and her grandma were set free from the wolf’s stomach, perfectly alive and well. 

Perspective Photo from spring 2022 Into the Woods. Photo by Craig Bailey.

Another senior who pulled off the role of a young kid perfectly was Dennis Dizon, who played Jack. His big moment came during the song “Giants In The Sky,” a performance of high anticipation that left everyone applauding. At one moment during the song, he let out a small laugh, making the crowd give him one in return. His line delivery was on point in every way, definitely proving how convincing he is as a performer. 

Additionally, seniors Anthony Lafornara, who played Cinderella’s Prince and the wolf, and Cedrick Ekra, Rapunzel’s Prince, put on a show all on their own. The friendly princes’ dynamic was a joy to see, as they comically rode bikes across the stage and sang a phenomenal rendition of “Agony”—not once, but twice. They captivated the attention of everyone in the audience, doing so with great onstage chemistry and presence. This is definitely a song male characters in Bridgerton would sing. 

Senior Beatrice Steuer convincingly portrayed the Baker’s Wife, exceptionally capturing the character’s flaws with ease. Opposite of her was the Baker, played by senior Jake Collins. The pair’s chemistry as a bickering couple who are desperate to have a baby felt authentic, and the story behind their characters was intriguing, which is important considering their interconnections with the other characters. 

The musical was very comical, including some of the sound design. The noises used for placing the magical beans in Jack’s hand and the crushing splat noises for the giants’ steps were particularly memorable. Though Milky White dying and falling over might’ve been tragic for Jack, it was also a hilarious moment for the crowd. Then there were the few lines of “to slay” when referring to the giants, which caused a giggle each time. Oh, and can’t forget about Rapunzel’s sexual tone of laughter, saying “Oh, okay” believing her prince was pulling on her hair from outside the tower—while it was really the Baker’s Wife—and her constant exaggerated crying.

Another applause for Rapunzel’s actress senior Ella Shaw, who despite not having that many lines, still handled her role with grace. Her signature operatic singing was typically more present than lines, but was nevertheless still impressive. The only negative was her positioning on the ladder, which was meant to represent her tower. For the most part, it obstructed the view of Shaw, making it hard to see the face of the long-haired princess. 

The more minor supporting characters—like Cinderella’s stepsisters, played by juniors Isabelle Wisdom and Morgan McMillin, as well as senior Roberta Alaman as Jack’s mother—were just as entertaining and amusing, with the stepsisters often stealing the show when onstage. 

Going into this musical blind after never seeing it done before or seeing the movie, there were really no prior expectations. While good, it’d be interesting to see another take on the classic musical to compare characters and performances. Some roles were casted spot on, but others had room for improvement, with the desire for them to be more consistent and convincing. 

The drama in the show, from cheating to deaths, made it interesting and similar to an American dramatized TV show. Some more songs that were particularly memorable include “Your Fault” and “Ever After.” 

The closing company song was a great way to go out and bring everyone together for bows. Though fully engaged in the show, the feeling that something was missing and that some stuff could’ve been done better could not be shaken. That’s not to say that the passion and hard work these students have put into this show over the last few months has gone unnoticed, certainly leaving people stunned that they did that.

Perspective Photo from spring 2022 Into the Woods. Photo by Craig Bailey.