From March 26 to March 28, Cohen Auditorium became a misty woodland, the site of fairy tales come to life. Student musical group Torn Ticket II’s production of “Into the Woods” (first performed in 1986), directed by Katherine Swimm, was a master class in college theatrical productions. The famed fable-based musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, was truly magical in the hands of the young performers. For roughly two-and-a-half hours, the audience was enchanted by the tragicomic story, which was aided by creative set pieces and directorial choices. When watching “Into the Woods,” viewers were reminded of the extraordinary amount of talent at Tufts. From the students in the orchestra to the actors to the behind-the-scenes — but no less important — designers of stage, makeup or costume, each aspect of the show was excellently executed and endlessly entertaining.
The story of “Into the Woods” is an amusing look at society gone askew, shown through the lens of fairy tale characters. After the Baker (senior Dan Pickar) and his Wife (sophomore Lucy Kania) learn that they can’t have children because of a curse put upon them by the Witch (Grace Oberhofer), they enter into the forest to gather a series of magical items to lift the spell. Pickar and Kania were an incredibly charming duo, but also shone individually. Oberhofer was also excellent as the Witch, who transforms halfway through the show from a degenerate hag to a beautiful young woman. The character can be difficult to portray, because she challenges both narrative and gender stereotypes with her nuanced performance; however, Oberhofer handled the role deftly, acting with aplomb and panache worthy of a young Bernadette Peters.
On their quest, the Baker and his Wife cross paths with Jack from the story “Jack and the Beanstalk” (junior Dorian Pistilli), Little Red Riding Hood (first-year Lindsay Sanders) and Cinderella (sophomore Rachel Sheldon). Jack had a particularly entertaining repartee with his pet cow, Milky White, played by junior Colin Watts holding a toy cow. It was this sort of whimsical levity that enhanced the student production, balancing out the sometimes somber elements of the show.
The story was furthered by characters such as the Narrator (first-year Suvi Rajadurai, who also played the Mysterious Man), Cinderella’s Prince (junior Lincoln Gray, who also played the Wolf) and Rapunzel’s Prince (sophomore Paxton Crystal, who also played Cinderella’s father, the Steward and birds). Gray and Crystal were hilarious, particularly during their duet, “Agony.” It was fun to see the student actors take on such varied roles, especially when they were acting multiple parts in one show. These quick changes of character and costumes were undertaken beautifully by Rajadurai, Gray, Crystal and other student performers such as sophomore Megan McCormick (who plays Rapunzel, Cinderella’s Mother and Cinderella’s Stepmother) and sophomore Becca Maclean (who plays Jack’s Mother and Granny).
It wasn’t just the significant acting and vocal talent that made “Into the Woods” such a pleasure to watch, but also the hard work by the behind-the-scenes crewmembers. Scenic designer sophomore Jack Cramer, assistant scenic designer sophomore Audrey Chu and scenic charge sophomore Stacey Fair did an excellent job with the sets. The prosthetic nose and chin for the Witch and the long corn-yellow hair for Rapunzel (McCormick), designed by hair and makeup designer sophomore Anna Robson, coupled with the costumes by first year Ana Antolin, contributed to the overall aesthetic of the production. It was clear while watching “Into the Woods” that this was a labor of love for all involved, a fact that only enhanced the viewing experience.
“Into the Woods” is not an easy musical to produce –– it’s full of heavy themes, difficult lyrics and quite a lot of quick changes. But despite its challenges, the performances presented by Torn Ticket II were exemplary in terms of warmth, humor and production. As the actors ended the show with a rousing reprise of the song “Into the Woods,” the audience was reminded of the power of musical theater and of the Tufts students who so beautifully presented it.