Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Straying from the Path

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Straying from the Path

Article excerpt

Into the Woods at Carnegie Mellon used a new vision

For longtime Stephen Sondheim fans, the Into the Woods journey is a return trip. The path is straight. We know it well. Proposals that threaten to detour from the established route can be at best worrisome and at worst disappointing or misguided in execution. Reports that the artistic staff at the Carnegie Mellon School of Music in Pittsburgh had a new vision for its production (Oct. 25-28, 2012) generated more than a little apprehension among Sondheim traditionalists. The creative team's announced intention was to move Sondheim and James Lapine's musical and its storybook characters out of the woods and into an attic.

Though less widely known in the theatre world than CMU's drama program, the school of music has a long history of presenting musicals - which have included Merrily We Roll Along and A Little Night Music - as well as operas. Productions in the Philip Chosky Theater receive full and professional mountings that approximate those by regional companies.

Moreover, music director Robert Page and stage director Dominic Missimi are not young, radical artists eager to grab attention and YouTube fame with wacky, high-concept productions in an unheated basement. Missimi recently retired as head of the music theatre program at Northwestern University. He has staged operas and musicals throughout the United States, including 35 productions at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Ill. Page is the Paul Mellon University Professor of Music and director of choral studies in the School of Music as well as the music director emeritus of the widely respected Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh.

Missimi had twice previously staged Into the Woods. In his program notes, he said he wanted to take a different approach, focusing on the relationships between children and parents, which he found more important than the plot of fairy-tale witches, princes and bakers roaming a forest in search of wish fulfillment. An attic packed with the furniture, clothing and mementos of successive generations seemed fitting.

In many ways the production achieved that goal. Scenic designer Young Jaung, assistant designer Joey Sarno and lighting designer Jon Mark created an appropriately jumbled, glowingly color-saturated environment, cluttered with the baggage of the characters' lives. Baby carriages, ball gowns, baskets and other objects of desire dangled from ropes. An oriental rug was draped over a tri-fold screen. …

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