City Circle summons Into the Woods back to the stage

BY DEVYN YOUNG | APRIL 23, 2015 5:00 AM

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The Coralville for the Center Performing Arts is hosting a production of Into the Woods this week. Listen to the Director Chris Okiishi talk about why they chose to do this show and the message the cast is hoping to send to the audience.

Multimedia compiled and edited by Lily Abromeit

At the beginning of the show, there are three pieces onstage: a chimney, a fireplace, and the outside of the cottage, a black curtain serving as a backdrop. The narrator, a man dressed entirely in black and carrying a clipboard, lifts his hands, and the curtain follows, almost as if he’s controlling it. A forest of cloth is revealed, painted to evoke the trunks of trees. The audience is transported into the woods.

City Circle Acting Company’s production of Into the Woods will play at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, 1301 Fifth St., Friday through May 3. The musical, written by Stephen Sondheim, who was behind Sweeney Todd and West Side Story (lyrics), tells the story of a fairy-tale world in which a baker and his wife struggle to have a child. A witch comes and tells them how they are able to have a child, but only if they can get four certain items. From there, the show weaves in and out of various fairy tales, including “Cinderella,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Rapunzel.” 

Into the Woods premièred on Broadway in 1987 and went on to win three Tony Awards. In 1988, Chris Okiishi, now the director of City Circle’s production, said he became obsessed with the musical. 

“I got the cassette tape the day before we left for choir tour for two weeks,” he said. “It was the only cassette tape I had with me …and I listened to it again, and again, and again. By the time we got home, everyone on that bus sitting near me could sing the whole thing.” 

Although Okiishi has loved Into the Woods for a long time and has been involved in four other productions of the show, this is the first time he has been able to direct.

“The show itself is enormous,” he said. “The first act itself tells several different fairy tales from beginning to end, including details people don’t always remember. We get them all in there, in addition to a whole new story.” 

One of the new stories in the musical is the story of the Witch, played by Broadway-alum Kristen Behrendt DeGrazia. 

“I love the Witch because she’s the witchy, evil character, but at the heart of it, she’s a mother … she has this true devotion,” she said. 

In December 2014, a blockbuster movie of Into the Woods opened. The cast included James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, and Meryl Streep, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards for her portrayal of the Witch. 

Okiishi said he believes the film’s success will drive anticipation for City Circle’s version while bringing something new to the table.

“We think … that the movie has gotten people excited about seeing the show,” Okiishi said. “The movie cut out about a third of the show, so if you saw the movie and felt like the second half of it didn’t tell you the whole story, you can come see it all on stage and remember everything.” 

Cast members agreed the show has something for everyone. 

“It’s great fun,” said Patrick Du Laney, who plays the Baker. “It’s a great, fun musical. There’s a great story that everyone can relate to because we all grew up listening to or reading fairy tales, and the themes of the show are something everyone can relate to.”  

Like any good fairy tale, Behrendt DeGrazia said, Into the Woods presents a universal moral.

“There’s a lesson in the show that there are consequences for your actions,” Behrendt DeGrazia said. “Everyone can identify with it, because things start to go wrong and people have to learn how to work together to make it through … I think everyone will find a character they can identify with. There are the themes of love and loss, friendship, motherhood, romantic love. There’s every type of the human experience in the show.”

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