Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“Into the Woods” is Honoring an Icon

February 14, 2023

For Jeff Farber, directing “Into the Woods” is about more than just good theatre. It’s also about honoring a friend.

“Sondheim is very important to me, and actually has played a significant role in my life,” said Farber, an assistant professor of theatre and a class of 2006 Millikin graduate. “I met and befriended him at a job I had…I worked for the Colorado Festival of World Theatre starting the summer before I graduated from Millikin. The Festival gave him our Lifetime Achievement Award and he came out to Colorado Springs.”

When Stephen Sondheim died on November 26, 2021, Farber knew the time was right to bring one of his most beloved musicals back to the Millikin mainstage.

“I actually chaired the season selection committee last year, when we were choosing this year’s season. We had been looking at different musicals, and then when Sondheim passed away over Thanksgiving weekend, we went back and decided that it might be a good time to produce a Sondheim show,” he said. “I believe the last time we produced a Sondheim musical on the mainstage was when I was a student here.”

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods” tells the stories of several iconic fairy tales, including Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood. Their adventures are tied together with the story of a Baker and his Wife who seek out certain artifacts in the hopes of conceiving a child.

“From the get-go, I was not wanting to do it the way that it’s always been done. I was not interested necessarily in just putting fairy tales up on the stage…I think the show is doing more than just that, I think fairy tales themselves do more than just that. So I’m looking to engage the stories on a deeper level, looking at the tales that we tell.”

For Millikin, Farber hopes to emphasize the musical’s exploration of moral gray areas in stories which are traditionally painted as simple light-versus-dark.

“What Sondheim and Lapine did, which was so brilliant — they take these children’s fairy tales and they start dealing with incredibly complex, deep emotions and circumstances. Typically in fairy tales, when you’re telling them to children, they’re pretty clear-cut. There’s a bad guy and there’s a good guy. It’s black and white…But in the musical, things start to get a little bit more gray than that. There aren’t clear lines between who is good and who is bad. And you have to be able to live in a world where that is the case.”

The starkest depiction of gray morality is the comparison drawn between the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince. In the original Broadway production, Director James Lapine chose to depict Robert Westenburg in both roles. This casting choice has carried over to Farber’s production, where the two roles will be portrayed by junior musical theatre major Conner Schroeder.

“I think we really liked what’s happening with the almost misogynistic, the objectification happening with the wolf — the sort of prey and predator relationship that then is paralleled in the actions of Cinderella’s Prince. He says ‘I was raised to be charming, not sincere,’” Farber said. “And, again, learning these lessons that you might not have anticipated. If you want your Prince Charming, what happens when your Prince Charming turns out to not be that great of a guy?…It highlights the dichotomy of his character a little bit more than if it had just been Cinderella’s Prince and another actor playing the Wolf.”

“Into the Woods” will run from April 13-15 in the Virginia Rogers Theatre at the Center for Theatre and Dance. Performances are 7:30 p.m. April 13-15 and 2 p.m. on April 16.

“I’m super excited!” Farber said. “I think we’ve got a great cast and great artistic staff, and I’m really excited to get started with rehearsals.”

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