July 6, 2008

Happily Ever After: Sondheim Musical ‘Into the Woods’ Opens Tuesday at WCP

By Melody Parker, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa

Jul. 6--WATERLOO -- In fairy tales, everyone is supposed to live "happily ever after."

The shoe fits and Cinderella gets her Prince Charming. Jack climbs the beanstalk and returns safely to earth. Little Red Riding Hood goes toe-to-toe with the Big Bad Wolf and survives, and Rapunzel lets down her long hair for a prince to climb up and rescue her. The witch throws her curses but her spells are reversed.

So, what happens after "happily ever after" -- when the sun really sets on the ride into the sunset?

In Stephen Sondheim's award-winning musical, "Into the Woods," these familiar fairy tale characters discover the consequences of the actions that made their dreams come true. The characters realize they must rely on each other and their sense of community to survive a threat.

The Waterloo Community Playhouse production opens Tuesday in the Hope Martin Theatre at the Waterloo Center for the Arts.

"I've wanted to direct this show since I first saw it 20 years ago. It has the most beautiful music I've ever heard and a lot of humor. At the time we decided to do the musical, we had no idea that it would be so perfect a message for the summer of 2008. It's about community coming together to help each other, and we've certainly done that this summer," says WCP Managing Director Charles Stilwill.

For health reasons, Stilwill's son Tyler, director of the Black Hawk Children's Theatre, is in the director's chair. In addition, recent flooding did considerable damage to props and collections stored in the WCP's Walker Building basement and set back set and costume building in the green room at the Waterloo Center for the Arts.

"We've been 10 days behind since the flood but we're catching up. The cast and crew has pulled together and all the scenery and all the costumes will be ready when we open," Tyler says. "I don't know that I've ever worked with a cast that has worked as hard as this one."

He agrees with his dad that the musical's premise is timely. "Sometimes it feels like life just keeps dumping on you ... the horrible weather we've had, and this show speaks volumes, but in an incredibly light-hearted, sometimes whimsical, fun, deep, meaningful and musical way. I love this play -- it's one of my top 10 favorites. I'm a classical kind of guy and this is one of the few modern plays I love. It has a classical feeling to it, and it takes place in a different time and place, and it's accessible to everyone," Tyler explains.

The greatest challenge is Sondheim's music. "The only thing more complicated than the lyrics he's written is the music he's written," Tyler says, smiling. Vocally, he says the cast as "amazing."

Bill Sikula, who plays Mysterious Man and the narrator, describes it as "the most gorgeous music in musical theater. I haven't been in a musical here since 1993 and this show is the one that made me willing to give up my summer. It's a great story and Mysterious Man gets one of the greatest songs in the show, I think, and it's the most layered, challenging work I've done."

In her WCP debut, Julie Thomas is tackling the role of Witch. "I get to explore a whole range of emotions, including anger, and I have one of the best songs, 'Children Will Listen.' I love the challenge of it."

Costume designers Patricia Stilwill and Danielle Warnke have had a few challenges of their own, including loading up volunteers with costume pieces to construct on home sewing machines after the theater's sewing room was flooded. There are also lightning-fast changes for several characters, including Sikula and Thomas.

"These aren't just costume changes, but complete, magical transformations. When you first read the script, it seems like a simple show to costume. Then you realize you have characters with multiple costumes -- Cinderella has five gowns and a spare that flies in from a tree -- plus a wolf and a giant and a witch that goes through transformations," Patricia says.


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