Who doesn’t want to live happily ever after? The classic Grimm Brothers fairytale characters (Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood etc.) would really do to that in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods, But Sondheim (“Sweeney Todd”) doesn’t keen toward happy endings. Lyric Stage director Spiro Veloudos – known for several Sondheim productions – is staging the 1987 hit “Into the Woods” through – just extended – June 29.
As children, we all grew up listening to the delightful, moral-filled tales of Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Jack and his beanstalk. Don’t dawdle. Work hard and dream big. Reach for the sky. These were some of the lessons they taught us. As we grew older, however, many of us saw more cynical and selfish sides to these same stories. Neglect your elders. Treat those who are cruel to you cruelly, Grab that golden egg and get out.
In Sondheim’s Tony-winning musical, both sides of these stories are explored with delightful and provocative results. By revealing the inner dialogues, desires and depressive tendencies of these outwardly flawless and fantastic fantasy characters, Sondheim encourages audiences to sing and laugh along with everyone else, but also to look within.
The Lyric, it has history. “In 1974, the Lyric brought a small professional theatre company at a time when there wasn’t any,” explains Veloudos, who has been honored with multiple Elliot Norton and Independent Reviews of New England (IRNE) Awards, including the 2006 Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence.
“We filled a void with locally-produced professional theatre for and by Bostonians.” In many ways, Veloudos suggests, the Lyric continues to build on that tradition, even in the midst of what he happily admits to be “an explosion of theatres” in the area.
“We are still for and by Boston people,” he observes, noting that, as Boston has changed, so too has the Lyric. “We have expanded upon the diversity of Boston neighborhoods and actors and artists in the area, so while we continue to focus on Boston, we are trying to expand that into a more diverse acting population on our stage to reflect what is going on in Boston.”
As “Woods” is such a fantastical story, Veloudos says it was a perfect production through which to proffer the Lyric’s diverse company and talents. “As it is about fantasy,” he says, “that allowed to cast it any way I wanted to. As we are trying to cast with more diversity, ‘Into the Woods’ lends itself to that.”
Of course, the play also coincides with Veloudos’ own love of Sondheim.
Lyric marketing director Henry Lussier explain the gist of it. “The first half things are and going the way they want, bt they find the things they’ve been wishing for has turned their lives upside down. And they’re brought back down to earth. It’s a fantasy-land where everybody gets a dose of reality.” The casting of the 17-member cast is non-traditional – not all-white – and they’re supported by a live orchestra.
Though Veloudos had mounted a previous production of “Woods” about 16-18 years ago (as he has been involved in hundreds of productions, he literally and understandably cannot pinpoint them all by date), he says he was not “artistically satisfied” by it.
“It was a great production,” he assures, “but I didn’t quite get all of it…. So this year, at the 40th anniversary of the Lyric, I wanted to do a Sondheim. I looked at shows I had done in the past and shows I had not done. I chose this because I think it is an amazing score and I think it will play remarkably in our space
In addition to being a chance for Veloudos to “get” more from this multifaceted play, it is also an opportunity to kick off what he promises will be a “new commitment” to the man whose work “represents the best of American musical theatre” over the last 50 years.
“It holds a place amidst the works of Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Frank Loesser,” Veloudos posits. While the score and story are both great, what Veloudos says makes Sondheim all the more amazing is that his shows work on multiple levels and are perfect for new theatre fans.
“If an audience has never experienced the work of Sondheim,” he assures, “they will enjoy it just on its face value.” While many of Sondheim’s shows feature big ideas and big casts, Veloudos says he has enough experience with them to be able to make them work just as well (if not better) on a smaller stage.
“Much of what I have done here at the Lyric is take large-scale musicals and reimagine them for a smaller stage,” he suggests, citing such recent success as “Gray Gardens,” “On the Town: and Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.”
“These are all big broad musicals that we have reimagined for our stage,” he observes, “so it is not as if I am taking the Broadway production and just putting it on our stage. I am rethinking it in terms of the visual content and the staging so the audience gets a sense for the story and enjoys it.”
While “Woods” will mark the beginning of a new focus on Sondheim, other productions of the playwright have marked significant milestones for Veloudos and his company, including opening his first season with the company’s first book musical – Sondheim’s “Assassins” – and including their first large-scale production – “Sunday in the Park with George” – in 2001.
“These are stories that I have wanted to tell,” Veloudos explains. “’Assassins’ was my very first season here and I waned to bring the book musical form (as opposed to a revue format) onto the stage at the Lyric so we could tell a story about the American Dream gone bad and all the themes of the book and the musical. ‘Sunday’ was indeed the first large-scale musical and we figured that, if we could reimagine it, we could do that kind of work.”
As both shows were such a success, they not only opened many yes to the wonders of Sondheim but also to what the Lyric could, did, and does bring to the community. “My mission is our mission,” says the many who wrote the company’s official mission statement. “The exact quote is ‘The mission of The Lyric Stage Company of Boston is to produce entertaining, challenging, and provocative theatrical productions of varying genres and styles that reach a wide variety of audiences through reasonable ticket prices and outreach programs. We are committed support and nurture the talents of Boston-area theatre artists through employment, training, and development opportunities.’” While he notes that the official edition will change “varied” to ”diverse,” Veloudos also offers his own interpretation. “Basically, we are committed to support and nurture the talents of Boston-area theatre artists through employment, training and development opportunities…. The idea is that, frankly, we are gonna’ do theatre that entertains, challenges and provokes and not limit ourselves into an official genre and we are going to hire and do those shows with Boston talent.”
s next 40 years, Veloudos sees continued adaptation, development, and growth, both for himself and his fellow company members. ”
TICKETS: Start at $25. Seniors $10 off regular price.
– Matt Robinson (with Jim Sullivan)
140 Clarendon St., Boston, 617-585-5678 www.lyricstage.com