With only 10 actors, one piano and boundless imagination, this witty and wildly theatrical re-invention is Into the Woods like you’ve never seen it before! The creative team share their vision for the musical below.
Derek McLane, Set Design
When Fiasco approached me, they said they didn’t want a forest, but they needed a container to put the show into. I felt I needed to create some abstract version of the woods. So I thought: What if it was all inside a piano? Upstage, there’s a giant exploded piano harp, with hundreds and hundreds of piano strings in different layers, going from bass strings to treble strings. They’re over-scaled, but they’re laid out in a way that’s very true to the pattern and angle of the strings you would find in a grand piano. On the sides of the stage are a number of stripped-down piano harps. All of this is open so everything can be lit-through—which is part of what gives it that evocation of the woods, even though nothing looks like the woods.
In a funny way, Sondheim’s work—some of those shows have been done so many times that it’s almost like doing a classic. There’s such a long history of significant productions, so you actually feel an obligation to try something original. It would be a wasted opportunity not to. (This quote was originally printed in American Theatre Magazine and is used by permission)
Christopher Akerlind, Lighting Design
Derek McLane’s idea that he has created a container for this Into the Woods is so interesting to me. I like to think that my best work has simply allowed a play, musical, or opera to happen, rather than having decorated or added literal interpretation of atmosphere to it. This is what I think of as Elizabethan lighting; a tribute to the idea that Shakespeare and his company created 38 or so great plays with next to nothing but text and performance. Though new to this production and the Fiasco folks, I’ve felt an immediate aesthetic kinship in our pre-production conversations. The lighting will have less color and fewer artificial textures than in typical musical theatre productions. I’ll be looking for simple gestures that frame, enhance, and caress these hardworking performers.
Whitney Locher, Costume Design
Audience members familiar with other productions of Into the Woods will probably notice right away that certain characters and elements are missing from this production, most notably the Narrator character, who is replaced by all of the cast members taking turns as storytellers. Because it is the actor’s role as storyteller at the heart of Fiasco’s approach to every project they undertake, it is my job as costume designer to enable each actor to transition quickly and easily into different characters with the simple addition or subtraction of such things as a hat, cape, or jacket.
Conceptually, this piece has been set in an attic of memory — filled with objects that could have come down through several generations. The costumes combine modern and period elements to capture a similar feeling of existing somewhere in between the Edwardian era and now. The color palette has been kept intentionally neutral so that the pops of color in added garments provide some fairy tale flair. It has always been imperative in my collaborations with Fiasco that the actors are never hidden or overwhelmed by the costumes and that my work helps to support and enhance their performances.
For the Sound Design of Into the Woods, the early discussions of how we were going to re-imagine it centered around the desire to make a chamber piece, but would utilize simple storytelling with only the things we absolutely needed to tell our story and to have the company of actors provide all the sound effects and music in the show. In the early creative stages, the rehearsal hall was filled with things you might find in your grandmother’s attic or an old, dusty music store. Piles of instruments and odd things that make noise were scattered around the room. The instruments and items that appear on stage in the production are the ones that made the cut from the early days of rehearsals. Many of the actors are also musicians, so Into the Woods has been re-scored using mostly portable instruments. The entire score is performed with piano, guitar, cello, banjo, toy piano, bassoon, bells, autoharp, and French horn. Even “Little Red,” Emily Young, dusted off her trumpet to have on hand for the princes’ fanfare moments in the show. As rehearsals progressed, it was clear that we needed a textured tonal instrument to assist in the Witch’s magic moments. So I brought my water-phone into rehearsal, which became a major element for the magic sounds throughout the production. It’s a beautiful handmade brass instrument with metal tines attached to a brass bowl that is filled with water, and the tines are bowed like a violin.
Along with the traditional instruments, there are a countless number of sound effect makers manipulated by the cast in the show: coconut halves (for the princes’ horses’ hooves, of course), various small whistles, and water pipes for the bird sounds you hear as they advise Cinderella in the story. From the start, we knew that the piano would be the major musical element driving the production, and the piano score of Into the Woods is very lush on its own. Not to mention the extraordinary arrangements that Matt Castle did with the cast. Even the set on stage is a giant instrument and played frequently during the production. The giant piano harp walls have been rigged with contact microphones that pick up the vibration of the strings and, during the show, the strings of the harp walls are struck with any manor of things: mallets, drumsticks, metal pipes, guitar picks, sticks and even the actors’ elbows. A fun fact about the piano harp walls is that on average it takes close to seven hours to complete the tuning before our technical rehearsals can even begin.
Into the Woods is now playing at the Laura Pels Theatre through April 12. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Into the Woods, Uncategorized, Upstage