It's a familiar story that begins with four magic words: Once upon a time.
A group of IPFW students and staff will take you along a fantastical journey and tackle one of theater's favorite productions, James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's “Into the Woods” beginning at 8 p.m. Friday at the Ernest E. Williams Theatre at IPFW, 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E.
Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. Saturday and April 24-26 and at 2 p.m. April 27.
The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and builds upon the stories to explore the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests. The main characters are taken from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Rapunzel,” and “Cinderella,” in addition to other favorites.
The musical is tied together by the creation of two original characters: a childless baker and his wife. Their mission to start a family faces trouble when they meet a witch and other storybook characters during their journey.
Craig Humphrey, an IPFW professor and the director of the production, said the play is a relatable story for many.
“It really investigates what we are willing to sacrifice in the sake of getting what we want and fulfilling our wishes,” Humphrey said. “Everyone in the fairy tale has a wish they are seeking to find the answer to. Act I is themed to be a happily ever after story, but Act II becomes much more complicated when they have to realize what they had to give up in order to get their wishes granted.
“It's very funny, but also very touching and powerful,” he said.
The show covers multiple themes, including growing up, the relationship between parents and children, accepting responsibility, morality, and consequences of actions.
“We all have our wishes and our dreams, but what are we willing to do to make it happen and is it worth it?” Humphrey said. “The show really investigated basic human issues, and I think that's why it's been so popular.”
The play debuted in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre in 1986 and premiered on Broadway on Nov. 5, 1987. “Into the Woods” won several Tony Awards, including Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason), in a year that was dominated by “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Walt Disney Pictures is producing a film adaptation of “Into the Woods,” directed by Rob Marshall and starring Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman and others. The film is scheduled for release Dec. 25.
The cast in IPFW's production includes Halee Bandt as the witch.
It's a difficult role to play, Bandt said, as idol and theater superstar Bernadette Peters is known for starring in it. But when it comes to a popular production like this, she simply has to step away, look at the role from an outside view and put her own spin on the witch.
“At first, I did have to separate myself from those preconceived notions of what I had seen her do, but I find that I am so glad and blessed to be playing this role because I connect to the witch and this role on many levels,” Bandt said.
“As the witch with 'Rapunzel,' it's easy to look at her as a character with an evil presence,” she said. “But in my opinion, she is a person in this group that doesn't know how to make decisions, but has a good head on her shoulders.
“The challenge with the witch is that she has to be extremely powerful, but she also has to have a tender side,” she added. “That's been the challenge for me, but I have really enjoyed finding that balance.”
Bandt said she is happy to hear about the growing popularity of the production because she hopes that will bring more people back into the theater and out to see the production at IPFW.
“I'm intrigued to see the movie and what their take is on all of it and how they present it,” she said. “I am glad that this show is going to become more a part of our pop culture and that more people can see the story in general. But I hope it brings people back to the theater to see where it came from.”