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With Library Setting, NKU's "Into the Woods" Offers Unique Telling of Classic Musical

Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods famously turns familiar fairytales upside-down as it asks of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and more – what happens after the happily ever after?

Northern Kentucky University’s revival, playing April 21-May 1, gives the show another flip by setting the action in an unexpected place – a library.

Like the musical, director Jamey Strawn explains, the library itself “begins to show the burden of consequence and ultimately become deconstructed when there is no more story left to follow.”

(Could he mean The Giant stomps on it?)

Setting the show in an alternate location, Strawn adds, “provides us the freedom to explore relationships in a new way.”

For one thing, a new character is introduced. The Narrator, usually played by The Baker, will be played by the Baker’s son in the NKU revival. Cincinnati Ballet veteran Charlie Klesa, seen most recently in The Carnegie’s The Wizard of Oz, narrates, reliving the stories his father told him. 

Those stories star iconic fairy tale characters created the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, converging as dreams come true: a prince comes to free Rapunzel from her tower, Jack does find a way to save his beloved cow, The Baker and his Wife do lift a curse – all of it at a high price. Be careful what you wish for.

Costume designer Jeff Shearer is having fun, giving each story a bright palette against the monochromatic background of the library, and while he doesn’t want the audience to be reading it, there will be bits of written dialogue accenting costumes of the main characters. Look for burned pages as a design element for The Witch.

Into the Woods, like most spring semester musicals, has been a year in the making. Design assignments were made a year ago, Shearer started sketching and choosing colors over the summer. (There was plenty of opportunity for the team to consult: director Strawn, Shearer, and scenic designer Tyler Gabbard worked together on last summer’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.)

Into the Woods, April 21-May 1. Northern Kentucky University, Corbett Theatre, Fine Arts Center, Highland Heights. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $14, seniors $1, students $8. 859-572-5464 and [email protected]

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts