Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Into the Woods - An Article From 3 Years Ago

Since no one reads this - here's an article from three years ago when I was in Fordham's production of Into the Woods. Sure its old, but this is my damn blog and if you're going to sacrifice your free time to read it, we're gonna play by MY rules.


So there we are, gathered around the piano, off-book for the first time ever! The song: “Act 1 Finally – Part 4.” I play with a stray pair of gym shorts from 1985 as Lauren Canonico paces in anticipation of the doom which awaits us all. Musical director Lloyd Arriola breaks into the piano introduction and we’re off. Eyes are darting, beads of sweat are falling, pants are being soiled; it was a harrowing sight. I catch the eyes of Mark Metivier, as we try desperately to scrape for the correct lyrics. In a nervous panic, Grace Spangler attempts some form of violent pilates to gouge the words. Out of the corner of my eye, Christyn Sacowich can be seen sitting against the side of the stage, slamming her back into it repeatedly, looking ready to foam at the mouth. We’re quickly approaching the chorus, and then it happens. We’re locked in, on the train of “Act 1 Finally – Part 4” and there ain’t no getting off. “…And happily ever after” everyone sings in an epic crescendo. 5…6…CUT OFF! We’d done it. High fives and hugs are exchanged, and not a dry eye is to be found among us. However, in the back of our heads we know that now we just have to improve our tone, add movement, fix dynamics, add costumes, fine tune the movements, make sure we don’t forget the words, and do the same for sixty-eight other songs. Joy.
I am tired. Very, very tired. Why, you ask? Perhaps I’ve been up doing schoolwork all hours of the night? My word, no. Is it possible that I’ve had a long night of drinking and have yet to recover? I should be so lucky. Have I been traveling through time, fighting inter-galactic Russian space frogs from beyond the moon? Well, yes but that’s beside the point. The cause for my overwhelming exhaustion can be summed up in two words – Steven Sondheim. This man is insane. To perform a Sondheim musical is basically the equivalent of rapping, on crack, for three hours straight to awkward melodies and uneven rhythms. In other words, it rapes you sideways and doesn’t apologize. Nevertheless, I am writing this to provide Fordham’s Paper readers with an insight on the upcoming Mimes and Mummers production of Into the Woods that is bound to be better than The Ram’s inevitable cover story. Why am I so sure? Because its’ writer hasn’t been doing anything else with himself. Seriously, I’ve spent more time rehearsing it in the past month than eating, sleeping, drinking, studying, walking, stalking, or ransacking peasant villages combined. Any more questions?
The story behind the conception of Into the Woods is a fascinating one, and a tale I shall tell my illegitimate grandchildren when the time comes. Well, it’s not really a story, per say, more of an anecdote. It turns out that the musical was written by Sondheim as a one-act originally. The characters have their problems and curses to solve; they have adventures, and achieve their goals. Of course, everyone lives happily ever after. The end. Well, apparently the hot-shot Broadway fat-cats informed Sondheim that one was not nearly enough, and that if he wanted Into the Woods to be produced, a second act was required. So Sondheim created a second act equivalent of flipping off the entire Broadway industry…in which he has pretty much every character die. How’s THAT for a Hollywood ending?
Of course, what good is an article on an upcoming musical without a brief synopsis? On the other hand, it is near impossible to give a short summary without going into convulsions, this show is so damn action packed. Basically, if you take every fairy tale you’ve heard as a child, place it in a blender, then blow the blender up, you’ve pretty much got Into the Woods. As I explained before, the show could easily be split up into two completely different musicals; the first one called Happy Ever After (I Wish); the second called Death, Sex, and More Death (and Sex). However, through Sondheim’s fiddling about, he has created two halves that almost represent life itself – separated into fantasy and reality. Then again, maybe it’s just a coincidence brought on by a contractual obligation. Either way, Sondheim devises a metaphor in “the woods” that the audience is bound to figure out, ponder, and get sick of, before the show even starts.
Yes, Into the Woods is a pretty nutty show. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fabulous and everyone and their mom(s) should see it. However, I’ve definitely had my fair share of it in the past month, and would love to share some of this mental instability…I mean, wealth. Seriously, if I dedicated this much TLC into any of my classes, I would be a scholar, or at least less of a dumbass. You see, I play the part of the Baker (a.k.a. The Baker’s Wife’s Husband). How difficult could that be, you ask? That character doesn’t even have a name! Yeah. The Baker has 230 lines and six songs. So bite me. All of you. On a side note, I chose to use this as my excuse for this article having more grammar and spelling errors than the inevitable Ram cover story. Also because of this confounded musical, I’ve spent more time as the Baker than as rootin’-tootin’ Mike Hadge in the last month. In fact, I find myself hanging out with the Pillsbury doughboy much more than usual. Yeah, I guess he’s got some cool stuff, but that stomach poking thing is starting to creep me out. I mean, he just keeps asking me to do it.
As they say in the business, every asylum needs a coordinator. Enter the lovely Lisa Ann Goldsmith, director of Into the Woods. Lisa Ann’s an interesting character. With her nurturing but intimidating demeanor, she leaves the cast with ample opportunity to let their own ideas and interpretations shine. However, many of them are wrong, quite wrong indeed. In this case, Lisa Ann allows her greatest strengths to come into play. Much like Laquisha and her eleven children on their daily Fordham Road visit to “Donuts N Ribs”, Lisa Ann knows exactly what she wants. As such, Lisa Ann is quite possibly the best director this baker has worked with thus far in his career (the other one smelt of barnyard). Seriously though, Lisa Ann has this “mother hen” thing going that makes the cast collectively just eager to please the woman; make her proud when we get home from elementary school with a “93” on our speling test.
“It was you, !” yells musical director Lloyd Arriola at cast member Joe Zanko III, who had just held out a note a bit too long. Yes, Lloyd is the wind in our musical sails, the shepherd of our musical flock, nursing us at his musical teat. Talented as he is Portuguese. Without him, the cast may as well adlib the entire score, because as I stated earlier, Sondheim is fucking insane, like…Mariah Carey insane. Anyone with any musical knowledge can tell you, it ain’t easy to sing sixteenth notes at a 132 meter to words that have no set repetition or flow. In fact, those who have experienced it could not tell you, either, for they are in no mental condition to do so; yet somehow, Lloyd makes it all seem plausible. See, Sondheim thought it was a cute idea to make this the concept for an entire song (“Your Fault,” or as I call it, “Goddammit!”)! Oh, and melody is never a factor for Sondheim. I mean, who cares what a song sounds like as long as it has clever and quirky lyrics, right? Right?! (Sorry, but if I ever meet Sondheim on the street one day, I’m going to ask him how his day was, probably ask for an autograph, shake his hand, and then kick him in the face) Here is but a sample of Sondheim’s tomfoolery: “There’s no time to sit and dither, while her withers wither with her.” Gag. Nonetheless, the cast is EXTREMELY fortunate that Lloyd is at the helm. He knows his music, man, and he doth teach it well.
Of course, what is a wacky-ass show without a wacky-ass cast? Give Lisa Ann credit, she knew what she was doing when she cast this show (says one of the leads). At this point in the production though, one could easily see Lisa Ann’s vision for the cast and their respective characters. Given the small cast size of sixteen, Into the Woods plays straight to the philosophy that there are no small parts, only Mary Meler and Meg Fisher. Oh, they’re a colorful bunch, yes sir. Starting with myself as the Baker, and the always fabulous Lauren Canonico as the Baker’s Wife; we look like any typical young, medieval Italian-American couple. Lauren’s “take-no-shite” attitude translates perfectly to the part, plus she’s a gorgeous first soprano, so that helps. Speaking of gorgeous first sopranos, Meg Fisher plays a lovely Cinderella. In fact, I daresay she tops Brandy in the role, but let us not get too extreme. Oh, speaking of which, could anyone explain to me how the white King reproduces with the Whoopi Goldberg-portrayed Queen to make a CHINESE Prince?! I mean, I’m no scientologist but…
Theresa Achtziger plays the old bitch-turned-young bitch witch, previously played by Bernadette Peters and Vanessa Williams. Theresa, who makes a fabulous witch, even has to rap, and she can rap with the best of them. In fact, she’s headlining a tour of the Bronx this Spring under the name Phunky TZiger. I’ve begged her to reconsider. Moving on, we take a look at the young lad playing the young lad Jack. Yes, ‘tis none other than Joe Zanko III. Now this kid is a true Irish tenor, folks. Just listen to his rendition of “Giants In the Sky”, you’ll lose all control of your bladder. In a good way. Jeanmarie Beier, whose last name I would no doubt mispronounce if I had to read this aloud, is in the role of Jack’s Mother, and pulls the overbearing mother bit off quite well, almost to a frightening degree. Little Red Riding Hood is played by Mary Meler who, with her ongoing skip, is just cute as a button on a diabetic Care-bear. We had a close call with Mary last week though, as she had contracted a strange disease known to some as “mono”, but to me as “excuse for not going to church.” Fortunately, it turned out to be gas. I for one am quite relieved, as Mary is an incredibly valuable part of the cast. Plus, the only alternative would probably have been to dress Lloyd in an oversized red cape, and no one should have to sit through that.
Everyone’s favorite Mime and/or Mummer, Jim deProphetis does double duty as both the Narrator and Mysterious Man. For myself, as someone who’s been rejected from Mimes twice and the Ramblers three times (no bitterness…you whores), it has been great to finally be able to work with Jim. In fact, the duet Jim and I sing in the second half, “No More”, may be my favorite part of the show. Seriously, if this song doesn’t make you cry, you must be a Nazi. Also, he has to do a funny walk. As the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince, Mark Metivier plays the duel roles he was born to play – a sexual predator and an arrogant douche. Honestly though, he’d steal every scene he was in if it weren’t for Greg Bennett, a very worthy adversary. As Rapunzel’s Prince, Greg uses his uncanny height to great advantage, with a posture and glide as hilarious as the expression he uses when discovering that yes, they are his twins. As for Rapunzel, she’s a little nutty, but so’s Christyn Sakowich, so it all balances out. With her ridiculously high soprano songbird melody, Christyn stays securely locked in the tower on stage right for most of the show – as it should be.
Now we move on to the royal family, which I think is another perfect casting job. At the head is the delightfully bitchy evil stepmother played by the delightfully bitchy Grace Spangler. The drunken patriarch is portrayed by Chris Frescella, in a role that is no doubt a stretch for the young nun-in-training. Jenna Scanlon and Lenore Furlong handle duties as Florinda and Lucinda, the evil stepsisters. Again, they create a great dynamic and really make you laugh at (not with) them when they go blind after the first half. I mean, who are we kidding; laughing at the misfortunes of others is what makes the world go round. Screw love! Kate Lawlor is constantly popping out of something or mysteriously appearing somewhere as Granny and Cinderella’s Mother. I still think we should lower her down on wires for every scene she’s in, but I guess that’s why I’m not getting paid the big bucks. Joe Nolin plays a curiously British Steward to the Prince, and prides himself on his skipping abilities and the dance with his staff during the Act 1 Finally. Rounding out the illustrious cast is Kayti Roberts, who plays about twelve parts, most notably the voice of the giant. However, she’ll also be heard as a baby, a body double, and a miscellaneous princess. How’s THAT for versatility?
Of course, I could not write an article on Into the Woods without mentioning our fabulous producer and stage manager, Kristina Curatolo and Victoria Soutiere. There.
Alright kids, moral of the story: come to Into the Woods, please. Twice. Four times. Every night. Tell friends, tell relatives, tell complete strangers. We’re been working too damn hard! As I write this, I am about to embark on an epic Presidents day weekend of thirty-four hours of creamy Into the Woods goodness. Please, as you’re downing your bottles of malt liquor or gooseberry wine or whatever you kids are into these days, think of the courageous cast and crew of Into the Woods, who are out there putting their asses on the line every day, to provide you all with two-and-a-half hours of entertainment, and then break down the set forever and cry about it. “Get to the specifics, you ass” you say? Fine then. Into the Woods goes up March 2, and continues through March 3-6. All the shows are at like seven I think, except for the March 6, which is at 2. All the shows are in Collins Auditorium and are completely (carb) free! Got all that? Splendid, so you have no excuse not to come now. Trust me, if you love crazy shit and fine musical thee-ate-er, you shall not want to miss Into the Woods. DISCLAIMER: Those who are pregnant or weak of heart should not attend Into the Woods. Mimes and Mummers is not responsible for anyone burned, maimed, impaled, eaten, mugged, attacked, or molested during Into the Woods. Into the Woods is not to be used in dank atmospheres. Into the Woods tastes great on a cracker.