Into The Woods is a Tony Award-winning musical, and a Stephen Sondheim production that pulls together many familiar fairy tale characters but with a twist. Next week, Dayton's Muse Machine will introduce audiences to their production of the musical.
"We didn't know what to expect when we announced it," says Doug Merc, the show's producer. "Into the Woods might have gone either way, but what we found is that there was an enormous reaction. The show is very dear to people's lives, and I think that there are a lot of young people who knew the show and were so over the top about getting their teeth into it."
Merc says the marriage of this musical and Muse Machine is the result of a long courtship.
"It's been more than ten years that we've been considering Into the Woods, looking at it, putting it on the table, and ultimately going in one direction or another. And it's been for a number of reasons because Into the Woods normally doesn't have dance in it, and we felt like we needed that. There were a number of things that we thought 'I'm not sure if this fits a Muse audience in one way or another,' and so we've tweaked it and fiddled with it and took notes on it year after year have have compiled notes and eventually this year when we pulled it out, we thought 'we know how to make this one dance,'" says Merc.
Into the Woods was born from a book called The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim. The idea is that fairy tales have use because when they plant seeds in the mind of the young.
"So that later in life when things occur, things like betrayal and death and very adult things, that's not the first time we will have experienced it, that we will actually have experienced it in some way through these fairy tales when we're young and so they will prepare us," says Merc. "The way that this show takes that on is that there's a first act with the fairy tales we're familiar with intertwined and we seem to come to a happy ending. But then the story continues and it starts to become something very real to all of us. We start to see very modern day, contemporary problems. There's a lot of happiness. There's an awful lot of humor in this just like in real life, but there are a lot of things we can't control, things that we don't always get explanations for and it takes things that may have begun as a fairy tale and sort of thrusts it into the face of the audience members. Again, it's always funny and it's always fun. But it's very thought-provoking."
"It's about taking this journey and finding out who you are"
On the final night for rehearsals at the Metropolitan Arts Complex where Muse makes its home more than 60 cast and crew members flood the practice stage. Soon the production moves next door to the Victoria Theatre. There was a lot of energy in the room and the students were focused on singing their lines and hitting their marks. They were having a good time.
"I started to dance when I was three and went to music school when I was five. So I have a lot of experiences with stages. I've never been in the theatre before though," says Anastasia Martimyan. She's seventeen and she's from Russia.
4 months ago Anastasia came to study at Stivers School for the Arts. Then in October she auditioned for Muse. She plays violin in the orchestra. She loves what she doing and says this is a great experience for her.
"When I first came here everybody was like 'Woah, you're from Russia, we're so glad to have you here.' Everyone was so friendly, and I felt, like, in the family. It was so warm," says Martimyan.
Samantha Eastman is also 17 and a senior at Tippacanoe high School. She's all smiles, but in Into the Woods she plays plays a witch. A witch named Samantha...that sounds familiar. The role of the witch is familiar to this young actress. It's one she's played before and she loves it.
"She was cursed with ugliness, and she's just absolutely ticked about it. So she'll do anything she can to get pretty, and so she sets out on this journey and she causes chaos in this small village that they all live in," says Eastman. Playing an ugly witch is quite a stretch for a girl who looks like Samantha, but she says she's got it covered. "My dad tells me I've got an ugly side so I think I'll be able do that, but I think there will be a little makeup involved. But for me it's about taking this journey and finding out who you are. It's really done a lot for me, not only as an actress but as a person."
"The qualities that more can people relate to"
Micah Trout is a senior at Beavercreek High School and he plays the baker, who he describes as quirky, insecure and trying to prove to his wife that he's strong though inside he's scared. Micah can relate to that.
"You know I have my quirks and stuff like that, but I think he's one of the most human characters along with his wife. I think they definitely have the qualities that more can people relate to," says Trout. He's 17 and loves singing. That's good because he's good at it. "The song that I sing is kind of a turning point for my character. I decide, you know, to not run away from things. When things get bad I decide to take responsibility, to be the man that I should be."
Micah Trout says the Baker and his wife are two of the more real characters in the play. The Baker's Wife is played by Mary Kate O'Neill who says she wants to do musical theatre the rest of her life.
"I started doing plays in first and second grade, and actually I went more into sports in middle school and then I kind of rediscovered my love for it in 8th grade or so. I've been doing musicals at my school since freshman year, and I started doing Muse Machine my sophomore year for Me and My Girl," says O'Neill. She says her character in Into the Woods was hard to relate to at first.
"I definitely had a problem with her when I first started the role because she is so human and she makes mistakes that I found hard to forgive. So it was really hard; it was really interesting doing through her journey and being able to understand her, and I hope that what I do in the role is something that the audience will be able to understand her and kind of look back at their own mistakes and be able to work them out the way she does," says O'Neill. "The thing is that you find out that you thought that you were so different from the character, but there's so many things that you relate to in the character. I mean I definitely don't live in a magical forest and I don't have witches and princes and princesses surrounding me, but it's such a real show."
"You figure it out together"
The show is directed this year by Rufus Bonds Jr. who says rehearsals are going well and having so much talent to work with makes it easier.
"It makes it even more easier when you have young adults that are willing to listen, and they're willing to dialogue with you about things that work for them and don't work for them. And you figure it out together," says Bonds.
Talent and communication may be key, but Muse Machine's productions don't get anywhere without hard work.
"When we left for winter break, you know for Christmas, I went home and slept for two days. I was so tired, I didn't know what to do," says Bonds. "But you come in. You're here every day, 4:30 to 8:30 during the week, 10 to 6 on Saturday and 1 to five on Sunday, and what's interesting about that they're happy to here. As they were speaking, I remember when I was in a place wheere you did the work because you love the work, and then you get paid. And it becomes something else, but it doesn't become something else unless you're not doing something you love, meaning picking the right pieces to do as well because if people love what you're doing on the stage, it will always be that fun. It will always be playland."
It's obvious that young cast and crew energizing this year's Muse Machine love what they're doing and all of them say they're making life long friends in the process.
Dayton's Muse Machine takes you Into the Woods this Thursday January 13th at the Victoria Theatre with shows running all weekend. Learn more about Muse performances and show times at Musemachine.org