Be careful what you wish for
MAPA Live tempts with ‘Into the Woods’
Director of MAPA Live’s production of “Into the Woods,” David C. Johnston compares the ethereal Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical to Joseph Campbell’s mythology classic, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.”
Sometimes called the “monomyth,” or “hero’s journey,” and influenced by psychiatrist Carl Jung, Campbell states: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won. The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Sondheim and Lapine’s “Woods” is a region where “I wish” comes true, yet there are significant consequences attached to “happily ever after.” The Tony Award- winning musical opens Friday night in the Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului.
“Campbell’s ‘hero’s journey’ turned out to be a terrific example to explore the journeys in these fairy tales. It was a surprise and a joy for me to connect this with ‘Into the Woods,’ “ explained Johnston. “The exact same elements bring the characters of the musical together. In the darkness of the woods, whether psychological or real, we battle demons, break through barriers that hold us back and, if we survive the trial, there is a responsibility to bring back that knowledge gained to our community and the rest of the world.
“There is a line that I love in the show when the Baker’s Wife is watching her husband and says, ‘You’re different in the woods.’ Who we are in times of trouble is the essence of who we are,” Johnston continued.
“It’s a journey into your psyche,” added Musical Director Gary W. Leavitt. “We say, ‘If I could only have this, I’d be happy,’ but there is always a price.”
Sondheim said of “Into the Woods” in 2014, “Happily ever after is in your hands, it’s not in fate’s hands.”
In the same online video interview, Lapine adds, “the first act is all about individual wants, the second act is about the consequences of those wants.”
Edgy, whimsical and wickedly funny, this cerebral fantasy musical intertwines the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault examining the consequences inherent in “Little Red Ridinghood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Rapunzel” and “Cinderella.” The famous children’s fables are tied together by a childless Baker (Logan Heller) and his Wife (Lina Krueger), their desire to have a child, and the Witch (Kirsten Otterson) who has placed a curse upon their family.
The lavish production also stars Kathy Collins as the Giant, Jerry Eiting as Cinderella’s Prince, Casey Hughes as Little Red Riding Hood, Sara Jelley as Rapunzel, Ricky Jones as Rapunzel’s Prince, Leighanna Locke as Cinderella, Kiegan Otterson as Jack, Francis Tau’a as the Wolf and many more.
When “Woods” debuted in 1987, it was heavily overshadowed in a theater season dominated by “The Phantom of the Opera,” yet it surprised many when Sondheim won the Tony Award for Best Score of a Musical, and Lapine won for Best Book of a Musical.
Lapine’s dialogue features a great deal of syncopated speech and character lines delivered with an element of spoken song so frequently that “Into the Woods” is considered by some to be more operetta than musical. Leavitt spoke of those musical challenges.
“It’s almost Wagnerian. Each character has their own theme, but those themes are inverted later on, particularly in the second act. There is not a single note or rhythm in this score that is there for fill. Its totality conveys all of the psychological forces at play. The themes become more complicated; some are the same notes now played in reverse. It’s so elegant,” Leavitt shared.
Lapine said that he wanted “the most unpleasant person (the Witch) to have the truest things to say, and the nicer people would be less honest.” In the Witch’s words, “I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m just right.”
I asked Johnston and Leavitt if there was a through-line in the annual Maui Academy of Performing Arts musicals at the MACC. In all of its productions dating back to 2013’s “Les Miserables,” the “nicer people” are certainly flawed, and the “unpleasant” characters are not necessarily villainous.
“The world is gray, and that is more and more obvious to me every day. There are situational conditions that influence our actions,” said Johnston.
“Nothing is black and white,” said Leavitt. “We can’t have light without knowing darkness, and that balance shifts. What was considered normal or abnormal 50 or 100 years ago has changed. The balance shifts, and the lens of time changes perspective. As the world turns, everything becomes much grayer.”
In the second act of “Woods,” the essence of each character’s grayness is clearly revealed.
“In order to grow as a person, nothing can stand still — transformation must occur. If you’re
walking along a path and it’s clear and paved with no challenges or obstacles, than you’re on the wrong path, you’re on someone else’s path. Every character in this show is looking for love and to be loved. Well, how can we know love without knowing what the opposite is? In the second act especially, they discover that you can’t do it alone,” said Johnston. “That is the basis of empathy, and we need more of that in the world.”
“I hope when people walk out of the theater, they will be touched in a deep personal place — that this fairy tale resonates with them through the music,” said Leavitt. “The choices, these relationships and the journey may bring someone clarity, and even peace in their lives.”
“This show has been on our list every year,” said Johnston. “Gary and I listened to the music again and realized just how rich the show is, and how it has so much to say on relationships and our responsibilities to each other and our community. This forest is alive with entities, the shadows of people who have gone into the woods before us, and those spirits are there to help. In the end they form a new family. In a sense they had to deal with change to find their real family, their real happily ever after.”
Join the Maui Academy of Performing Arts for its 30th annual Garden Party from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, on the beautiful shady lawn of the Yokouchi Family Estate in Wailuku.
Enjoy Broadway-caliber entertainment featuring the stars of “Into the Woods,” a chef’s festival with gourmet cuisine from Maui restaurants, fine wines, locally brewed beer, live jazz, a silent auction and fresh art — paintings created on-site to be auctioned off at the live auction not long after the paint has dried.
Proceeds benefit MAPA’s educational performing arts programs including its December production of “Nutcracker Sweets” at the MACC. All-inclusive tickets are $75. The Garden Party is a 21-and-over event. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.mauiacademy.org.
Cabaret & Cocktails and the seventh annual Hawaii Burlesque Festival and Revue present “Burly-Vision: A Late Night, Binge-Worthy Burlesque Show.” This one-night-only extravaganza stars “Hawaii’s Burlesque Sweetheart” Violetta Beretta, “The Boom of the Barbary Coast” Bunny Pistol, Margot Rita, Madame X, The Baroness, Lily O’Lei, Miss Riding Hood and her Big Bad Wulf, host Madame Munchausen and many more.
* Performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8. Tickets range from $25 to $45. “Burly-Vision” is an 18-and-older event. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 242-6969 or order online at www.mauionstage.com.