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Liberty theater takes audiences 'Into the Woods'

September 21, 2012 : By Drew Menard/Liberty University News Service

The Liberty University Department of Theatre Arts lifts the curtain on its mainstage season this weekend with the premiere of “Into the Woods” at Tower Theater.

The play — based on the novel by James Lapine with music and lyrics by the legendary Stephen Sondheim — weaves beloved storybook lore, like Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Cinderella, with an original tale of a Baker and his wife.

Linda Nell Cooper, “Into the Woods” director and theater department chair, said the play is unique in that it is a farce, right in between a musical comedy and a tragedy.

She said while much of the story will be familiar to audiences, Lapine’s telling poses deeper, more philosophical and spiritual questions.

“What would happen if fairy tales came to life and had to face life’s problems, instead of storybook problems? Could they handle it?” Cooper said. “Unfortunately, in going after what they thought they wanted, they (the Baker and his wife) went off the path and couldn’t find their way back home.”

Cooper added the show was chosen particularly for upperclassmen, as it is very challenging vocally.

“Sondheim for theater students is like taking a calculus class,” she said. “It is one that as a junior or senior, you want to be able to put on your résumé and to be able to say that we did it well.”

David Hahn, assistant professor of Worship and Music, works as a vocal director for the play. He said the cast’s voices rival those on Broadway.

“They draw from a strong technique that brings richness to their expressions in character,” he said.

With a 21-member cast, “Into the Woods” is smaller in relation to other large-scale musicals at Liberty, like “Ragtime” with 58, and “Phantom of the Opera” with 44. But Cooper said the vocal quality of the ensemble makes the show seem just as large.

“Into the Woods” stars many faces familiar to the Tower stage, including Carson Burkett as the Baker (known for his Irene Ryan nominated role in “Ragtime”), Rachel Day as the Witch (known for her Irene Ryan nominated role in “Phantom of the Opera”).

The stage design for “Into the Woods” is rather unique, Cooper explained.

“We went with the idea that the woods are not literal,” she said. “Woods represent life in general, you find the woods everywhere.”

The characters will find themselves in what Cooper describes as a “forgotten world, lost in space and time.” The set has a grungy, urban feel and the costumes span time periods, fusing Victorian and modern fashion.

This is Liberty’s third time presenting “Into the Woods,” though it is the first time at Tower Theater. Cooper said this time it is more magnificent than before, fitting for Tower’s stage.

She said for those who have seen it before, they will notice a less dark interpretation.

“It is happier, more family friendly. The look of the actors is lighter, more innocent.”

“Into the Woods” runs through Oct. 7 with 10 performances in all. Visit Tower Theater’s website for show times and tickets.