Title: Byrum Performance Center becomes a woodland adventure
Combining the object lessons of "The Fantasticks" with the whimsy of fairy tales, Anderson University's production of "Into the Woods" delivers a powerful message coated with fun costumes and a marvelous set. Written by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, the Broadway musical centers around the principal characters in Grimm's fairy tales -- a baker and his wife, Jack and his cow, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and the hapless Cinderella. Rife with symbolism, the play sees relationships and lives forfeited because of mistakes, selfishness and longing.
Much like in "The Fantasticks," the first act focuses around the characters making wishes and getting them granted -- the baker and his wife a child, Jack to have riches, Cinderella and Rapunzel to get their respective princes and the witch to reclaim her youth sacrificed for power.
Ending with a huge song and dance number, the group prepares to ride off into the proverbial sunset after the first act.
As in real life, every character's actions result in consequences for not only them but others in the play. Questions of good, evil and the fine line between the two are raised in the first act but further explored in the second.
While the story is riveting and intricate, it is the costumes and set that lend the play its uniqueness.
The most notable cast members, although they have no spoken lines, are the dancers.
Part character and part prop, the dancers fill a singular role in the production.
Through interpretive dance and symbolism, the seven dancers from Butler University's Jordan Academy of Dance, become a tree, a flock of birds, a rose bush, the prince's horse and a host of other pieces of set.
"It was terribly important that the woods move, have personality," said Laurel Goetzinger, director of the play. "And we couldn't really do that with the traditional set. The dancers worked perfectly."
The often-complicated costumes are fanciful without being too over-the-top.
A perfect example would be Jack's cow -- Milky White. Played by Kate Cecil, Milky White is a compound of puppet and actor that seems to blend into each other seamlessly, allowing the audience to be drawn into the story instead of trying to imagine a cow in the place of an actor in white leotard.
"Every time I've seen Milky White, she was played by a big plastic cow and I didn't want that," Goetzinger said.
In the same vein, the spirit of Cinderella's mother who inhabits a tree is an intriguing mix of a fabricated tree and an actor -- Kelly Massie -- with brown dreadlocks.
Behind Massie, a dancer embodies leaves blowing in the wind.
While "Into the Woods" is a play that has been on the boards numerous times over the years, the AU production sets itself apart with its elaborate set and a cast with strong, commanding voices.
“Into the Woods” was performed Oct. 27, 28 and 29. A final performance will be performed on Nov. 3 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. For more information contact the Byrum Performance Center at 765-641-4352.
----Keri S. McGrath is a reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin.