UA Theatre brings Stephen Sondheim’s legacy to life with “Into the Woods”


Photo courtesy of Porfirio Solorzano

McKenzie Knight, Contributing Writer

If you want to get lost in fantastical woods, the UA Theatre and Dance Department’s spring musical offers you the perfect opportunity. The show opened in the Marian Gallaway Theatre in Rowand-Johnson Hall on Wednesday, April 12, and the cast and crew hope to honor Stephen Sondheim’s legacy by performing one of his most popular musicals, “Into the Woods.” 

With Sondheim’s death in November 2021, theatre programs and music appreciators worldwide strove to show how large of a mark he left on the musical world. At the time of his death, he had written the music and lyrics for 18 shows over the course of five decades and inspired musicians and actors alike to make great sound and express themselves in all art forms. 

It’s a show that I believe is first of all, one of Sondheim’s greatest works, and one of the greatest pieces of musical theater in history. I believe that everything that was created for the show was done very purposefully, and very methodically, and very effectively,” said Matthew Richards Jr., a senior majoring in musical theatre, who plays the roles of the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince in the show. “So, it’s a genuine honor to be able to present the show in the way that we have, [which is] very true to the script, very true for him. And being able to just bring it to life in a way that we can all be proud of has been a genuine honor of mine.” 

This production is directed and choreographed by Stacy Alley, the head of musical theatre at the University. She was also on the season selection committee that decided on performing this show. Alley said that she kept the production close to the original Broadway enactment that premiered in 1987.  

“The cool thing about the show is that it’s so open to interpretation that you can do all kinds of things with it. And a lot of the people do very interesting things that kind of deviate from what the original production did. We chose to still set it in the woods. But of course, with our own take on it,” she said. 

“Into the Woods” mixes multiple of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales together, creating a universe in which audience members can experience all their stories and interactions together. You’ll recognize Little Red and her Wolf, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and his beanstalk, and a few other characters as well.  

Benton Reed, a senior majoring in theatre, creative media and studio art, said the show could be an interesting commentary.  

“This show for me is really about the way that we tell stories. There aren’t really heroes and villains. Everybody’s kind of good, and everybody’s kind of bad. Everybody makes their own mistakes and does their own thing, and they get what they want. And then they lose what they want,” Reed said. “Everybody’s kind of in the same boat the whole time. It’s not this really stereotypical, ‘good versus evil’ kind of play.”   

Though you may be familiar with these fairy tales, everything is not as it seems. The tone of the play shifts consistently, keeping the audience on their toes in efforts to maintain the plot and alleviate tension with morbid humor. 

“I think the humor catches people off guard very easily because you expect these characters to just live in this old English, which can be funny, but it’s not as easily digestible to audiences as a more modern show would,” Richards Jr. said. “So, the team of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim have made a show that is so easily funny and easy to be seen as a comedy but also has really deeper moments.”  

The University’s production of “Into the Woods” is loaded with talented vocals, acting and comradery. The cast makes it clear that they’re having fun and implore the audience to do so as well. The lighting throughout the show, paired with the extravagant set work to create the semblance that you and the actors are indeed in the woods, makes it easy to feel as if you’re experiencing the scenes on stage with them.  

This is also the first musical since the pandemic to have a live orchestra.  

“We’ve had to use tracks for all our shows since the pandemic,” Reed said. “So, it’s really nice, especially for this show that has these gorgeous orchestrations, to have an orchestra again.” 

The message of “Into the Woods” can change depending on individual interpretation. In her director’s note, Alley speaks about what the show means to her.  

“Of course, such iconic pieces of art speak to us in different ways as we progress throughout our lives. As the mother of a teenage daughter, I see ‘Into the Woods’ and its many valuable lessons through a different lens now than I did as a teen who wore out a VHS tape of the filmed version of the original production,” Alley said in the director’s note. “I now focus on the fact that my daughter, like the characters, will soon head out on exciting and scary adventures wherein the consequences of her actions can affect the greater good. Along the path, I hope that she, too, will find strength amongst community in times of adversity and uncertainty.” 

“Into the Woods” will be open from April 12 – 14 and April 20 – 23. Tickets are currently available for $15 for students. All shows are at 7:30 p.m. except for the matinee on Sunday, April 23 at 2:00 p.m. For more information on upcoming shows within the Department of Theatre and Dance, visit here.