Over the river and through the woods

YSU’s musical is a true collaboration

YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State University’s theater and dance department and the Dana School of Music are collaborating on a production of the musical “Into the Woods” opening Friday.

Director Matthew Mazuroski said that wasn’t the initial plan.

“We originally intended on doing (Shakespeare’s) ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in this slot,” he said. “With the Dana School of Music celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, I talked to the faculty in the theater and dance department and asked, ‘What if I approach them about doing a co-production?’

“Students in the voice program are joining us on stage. Kivie Cahn-Lipman is conducting instrumentalists from Dana. This is a true collaboration.”

The performers on stage will be accompanied by 15 musicians in the pit orchestra, and Mazuroski said he believes the experience will benefit everyone involved.

“When you get creative people together in a room or rehearsal hall, the sum is greater than the parts,” Mazuroski said. “Educationally, it’s a great thing. For the musicians, playing in a pit orchestra is a skill set they’re going to need as they pursue careers as full-time instrumentalists. If they’re working in high schools as music teachers, they’re going to be putting together musicals.”

The cast features Tristan Kile, Haley Tura, Daniel Navabi, AnnMarie Lowerre, Adam Dominick, Rosie Bresson, Makenzie Moorman, Sara Eckenrode, Maria Cicco, Ben Mowrer, Halla Henry, Jessica Hirsh, Anna Murcko, Jared Liscinsky, Malik Montgomery, Jordan Hazy, Noah Landry, Alex Kluchar, Mac Callahan, Monique Lopez and Lexi Denney.

Cahn-Lipman will conduct an orchestra featuring Herbie Hunkele, trumpet; Sarah Schwenke and Ben Cross, French horns; Mckenzie Cooper, flute and piccolo; Elliot Kwolek, clarinet; Frances Clause, bassoon; Emily Nicolette-Fantin, piano; Jeffrey Williams, synthesizer; Evan McCreary, percussion; Brendan McEvoy and Fiona Flannery, violin; Emilee Rogers and Cas Stanaford, viola; Hannah Shively, cello; and Sean Williams, bass.

Mazuroski picked an acclaimed but challenging production for the collaboration. Written by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, the original Broadway production won three 1988 Tony Awards, including best book and best score (it lost best musical to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera”). A 2002 Broadway production won the Tony for best revival of a musical.

The 2014 film version was a box-office hit and received three Academy Award nominations.

“We bounced around a couple of titles and landed on this,” Mazuroski said. “Sondheim can be a really nice challenge for the students, and I think they’ve risen to that challenge significantly … With Sondheim, the musicality is so important, the acting of the songs, the patter of the words. My colleague (music director) Maria Denison worked with them for three weeks just on the musicality and the singing part of it. The ability to act those songs really well is the challenge.”

The story brings together characters from several Brothers Grimm fables — Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, the Baker and his Wife — and puts a darker spin on those stories.

“The story is kind of relevant to today,” Mazuroski said. “It takes that idea of fairy tales we all know and asks what happens if they don’t all live happily ever after?”

The production staff — Wendy Akers properties designer; Antonio Colaruotolo, lighting designer; Todd Dicken, scenic designer; Katherine N. Garlick, costume, wig and makeup designer; Amy Wright, choreographer; Johnny Pecano, sound designer; and Ryan Fitzpatrick, coordinator of theatrical productions — also gets to show off its talents.

“Visually, we wanted to take the audience into the woods,” Mazuroski said. “We’ve extended the stage out into the audience … You get a great sense of the depth of the woods. We bring some of the characters almost into the laps of the audience members.”