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"No One Is Alone”: Mask And Bauble’s 'Into the Woods' Seeks to Build Community After the Pandemic


Photo Credits: Han Miller

As I took my seat to watch an early dress rehearsal of Mask and Bauble’s upcoming production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods, the venue fluttered with activity and hurried preparation. The centerpiece of the stage is an impressively massive tree trunk adorned with lanterns on each branch. “We have a set,” Producer Drew Lent (’25) remarked decidedly as the crew was getting ready. “It feels a lot better than yesterday.” Poulton Hall Stage 3 is a much smaller space than what would be expected for a large musical production such as Into the Woods. But, Mask and Bauble’s production makes incredible use of the space and provides an incredibly intimate presentation of the classic Broadway fairytale. Poulton Hall has been Mask and Bauble’s home since 1975, but this is the first musical to be performed in the space since the pandemic. “Even for the seniors, for those who have been involved in Mask and Bauble for 4 years,” started Sam Kehoe (’23), who plays the Baker, “because our freshman show was shut down for COVID, this is the first time any of us are putting on a musical in this space.”


Before the actual dress rehearsal could begin, there were a few notes and one logistically-complicated task of figuring out exactly which lantern each cast member should take during a certain number. At one point the cast practiced the finale, and even without the music, I felt myself moved by Sondheim’s beautiful melody and the amazing singing of the performers. Then, finally, the lights went down and the show properly began.


Into the Woods’ opening can feel overwhelming. We are introduced to about nine different fairytale characters at once, each with their own “I wish” statements—Cinderella wishes to go to the festival, the Baker and his wife wish to have children, Jack wishes his cow would give him some milk, etc. Different plots overlap with each other, and everyone is sent off into the titular woods for one reason or another. But throughout the show, Sondheim’s genius score and use of motif helps the audience keep the complicated plot straight to understand everybody’s character—and so does this cast. Every member brings incredible depth and emotion to each character, whether it be Pace Schwarz (’23) double cast as the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince (who was “raised to be charming, not sincere”), devilishly creepy yet charismatic in both roles, Courtenay Kim-White (’24) as the Witch, scary yet hauntingly tragic, or Ava Foster (’23) as the Baker’s wife, endearing yet vulnerable, or any of the rest of the cast.

Photo Credits: Han Miller

Orly Salik (’23) is directing the production and spoke with me about how she views the show in context with the pandemic and how it affected the theater community. “Looking at what to direct this year, we were looking for a community builder, especially after COVID. We wanted to do something that was a big name, that people would want to come see, and of course we also really wanted to do a Sondheim show to honor his legacy.”


Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the music for Into the Woods, as well as a plethora of other Broadway staples such as Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Sunday In The Park With George, died in November of 2021 at age 91. Since his passing, his shows have seen an uptick in popularity and interest. Into the Woods itself was revived on Broadway this past summer, and the subsequent touring production recently played at the Kennedy Center. A new production of Sweeney Todd, starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford, opened on Broadway in March. Here in the DMV area, the Signature Theater in Arlington produced Pacific Overtures, a lesser-known Sondheim show about Commodore Matthew Perry’s visit to Japan.


Salik emphasized the scale of this production in comparison to Mask and Bauble’s past productions. “This is a crazy show,” she describes. “It's a huge cast. We have 20 people which is a lot. Georgetown Theater loves a show with 5 people, so this is a lot in a wonderful way. From the cast to the orchestra to directing and production staff, it’s around 90 people. I am constantly astounded by the level of work that's going in. It's wonderful—everybody is really invested in telling this story.”


The first act of Into the Woods reads like your typical fairytale. By intermission, each character has gotten their ‘happily ever after.’ “But the thing that’s also happening,” Salik explains, “is that each of these characters is lying, and cheating, and deceiving, and stealing in order to get that ‘happily ever after,’ and in the second act this comes back to haunt them.” The show then becomes an exploration of how we respond to that hopelessness and guilt of our world being upended, possibly due to our own actions. “I think we all sort of had that moment recently,” she said.


“We did this show with the goal of engaging and finding community because this is a show so many people love and it's literally a show about our communal responsibility,” Salik said. “I hope that when people see it they appreciate the time and effort and work that this huge community has put into this. The take away from this production process is exactly what the message of the show is: we can do so much when we allow ourselves to work together.”


Pervasive throughout the show is an exploration of family and upbringing. The characters themselves are often shaped by their upbringings, by generational trauma, and by the expectations of others. The Baker has been cursed due to the actions of a father, who then abandoned him. The princes have grown up entitled, viewing themselves as gallant, womanizing adventurers. The Witch has inherited both responsibility and trauma from her mother, which causes her to be overprotective of Rapunzel. But on another level, each of the stories within the show are their own fairytales, and the show explores how telling these stories affects the way children see themselves. “Be careful the things you say, children will listen…” the Witch sings during the show’s finale, “... children may not obey, but children will listen/be careful the tale you tell, that is the spell.” As we pass down what we know to those who come after us, Sondheim warns us to be careful that we do not end up perpetuating the same myths that have cursed us.



Photo Credits: Han Miller

Near the end of the show comes the number “No One Is Alone,” which perhaps exemplifies the show's themes more than anything else. As the characters come together to confront their challenges and deal with their losses, they stress the importance of forgiving past wrongs and working with what they have in order to move on. “People make mistakes,” they sing. “Holding to their own, thinking they're alone / Just remember: someone is on your side, no one is alone.”


Into the Woods runs at Poulton Hall Stage 3 from April 13-16 and then from April 20-22. All online tickets are sold out, but there are standby tickets available at the door.

 

Benjamin Fishbein is a freshman in the College planning to major in History and Theology.


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