"Into the Woods" brings Mason's music and theater departments together

"Into the Woods" will run performances starting Friday, October 26 through Sunday, October 28 at the Center for the Arts Concert Hall (photo courtesy of George Mason University's School of Music).
"Into the Woods" will run performances starting Friday, October 26 through Sunday, October 28 at the Center for the Arts Concert Hall (photo courtesy of George Mason University's School of Music).

The College of Visual and Performing Arts is embarking on a new journey; that is a magical journey into the land of fairy tales. In a collaboration between George Mason University’s School of Music and the Department of Theater, the CVPA is presenting Stephen Sondheim’s 1987 musical “Into the Woods.”

A beloved musical “Into the Woods” takes many of the well known Grimm fairy tales and places the characters alongside each other. Little Red Ridding Hood, Cinderella, Rapanzuel, along with Jack and the Beanstalk the musical takes the audience through a journey through the wishes and fears of each of these characters.

Dr. Dennis Layendecker, the musical’s music director as well as the Director for the School of Music, was excited to embark on this journey. Chair of the Mason’s theater department and director of “Into the Woods,” Ken Elston has been working side-by-side with Dr. Layendecker throughout the entire process to make sure the production went smoothly. Through their collaboration, the two have been able to find new surprise in the music together.

“We keep finding new and wonderful things in the text and the music,” said Elston. “So much in the music tells us about the characters and the character’s state of being and the text tell us how the music should be played.”

The love of Sondheim that both Layendecker and Elston share has been an integral part of putting on this music. “I always knew that Sondheim was a genius, at least in my view,” said Layendecker. “He’s not just a musical genius, he is a dramatic musical genius.” Having performed selections of Sondheim’s work in the past with the Air Force band, Layendecker has been able to delve into the musical more so than he ever had been able to.


Inspired by illustrations from old fairy tale books, Elston really wanted to bring the audience back to their childhood, “we wanted to capture the magic of an old pop-up book and capture the feel of those early illustrations” said Elston.

However, this did prove some challenges. The musical deals with the magical world of fairy tales which are hard to recreate in reality. To overcome some of those hurdles, Elston added two magic makers apart from the original music. These characters were added to help run the musical throughout the play.


Aside from the magical parts of the musical, the central theme throughout is parenthood “and all of the different challenges we as parents face,” said Layendecker. The theme of parenthood and “all of the strengths and weaknesses and all of the good intentions” are heard through the Baker and Witch.

What begins as hearing the wishes and desires of the characters into the opening number, the characters soon “switch track as they see the bigger pictures and their wishes change to their roles in parenthood.”

Most notably the characters of the Baker, the Witch, and Cinderella all experience these changes. The Baker, whose whole life depends on his wife, finally has to face the reality that he must grow up when his wife passes away. In the song “No More” the Baker speaks to his father from the grave as he realizes the reality he must face as he is left on his own.

Over 150 students auditioned for one of 22 roles in the musical. Simply by chance, the final cast includes eleven students from the School of Music and eleven students from the Department of Theater. 

“Into the Woods” marks the beginning of a bigger project between the School of Music and the Department of Theater in hopes of creating a musical theater degree program for the future.

In the Fall of 2013, both the School of Music and Theater Department are hoping to be able to award students with a Musical Theater certificate. The goal is to make students better actors, dancers, and singers through both music and theater.

Prior to the audition process, both departments were unsure of what they should be looking for in potential musical theater applicants. The audition process helped both Elston and Layendecker establish what they would be looking for in an ideal musical theater degree candidate. “Theater was looking for actors and music was looking for musicians and trying to find those people that can do acting, singing, and dancing was difficult, “ said Layendecker, “we didn’t have a landing pad for them.”

Both Elston and Layendecker are hoping that students and the surrounding community will come out for the short-run of “Into the Woods.”

Performances will begin on Friday October 26 at 8 p.m. at the Center for the Arts where performances will run until October 28. Tickets can be purchased at the Center for the Arts Box Office where up to two free students tickets can be purchased with a valid Mason ID.



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