NUStage Goes Into the Woods to Perform a Musical

December 3, 2021 | By Avital Brodski

“Once upon a time”; that’s how a story always starts. Unlike any traditional story though, Into The Woods does not have a happy ending. On Nov. 19 and 20, NUStage took over Blackman auditorium and transformed it to a storybook setting. Directed by fifth-year and club member Ben Barber, this production not only weaved through narrative obstacles present in the musical, but also had to counter the new obstacles of putting on live theatre during the pandemic. 

Photo Courtesy of NUStage

NUStage was given two options: creating a show where social distancing was put in place or one where masks were to be worn at all times. As this show was not too social-distance-friendly, they chose the latter. Barber said that for them, dealing with the pandemic “was different from a theatre perspective,” as they understood that they “weren't going to see half of people’s faces, and masks affect singing”. They even had to cast understudies as a backup plan to prepare for anything that might have gone wrong. Nonetheless, they persisted and made the show fantastic—even with masks. 
The story centers around characters from well known fairy tales. We meet Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack from “Jack and the Beanstalk.” In addition to the popular characters, the story involves archetypes present in a few stories such as “Prince Charming”—which happens to be two brothers chasing princesses—and an evil witch. Although we get to see all of their stories play out, our main protagonists are a baker and his wife, who are just trying to break a curse so that they may have a child. 
Barber, a lover of fairy tales himself, describes Into the Woods as “add[ing] these human aspects to [well-known stories] and add[ing] these particular twists and turns in which not everything goes right. Fairytales don't always end happy. Sometimes it’s because of something people do; sometimes it isn’t. That’s very humbling.” Even though the first act has every character finding their happy ending, the second act shows what comes after happily ever after.
Each character now faces the consequences of their choices. After searching for their own happiness, they now have to grapple with the side effects of their choices and how they affect others. Additionally, some characters who end up getting what they want realize it actually does not make them happy. Traditional fairy tales ignore the human aspect of stories, and Into the Woods considers what can actually happen. In its finality, this musical shows that there are no such things as the happy endings portrayed in our favorite stories. In order to find your happiness, sacrifices still have to be made either from yourself or from the people around you. 

Photos Courtesy of NUStage

Another theme that is explored is the concept of families. This show “contrasts birth families or connections you make from blood with found families, which college students [relate to],” as expressed by Barber, making it the perfect show for this audience. As we live through our own stories, the families we find may not be the ones we were born with. College is a determining time for people, and the connections students make not only affect their current story but what their own happy ending may entail. 


NUStage being a group of college students playing out these themes further deepens their effects. The audience can safely explore their identities through these stories and relate to them as well. As for NUStage members themselves, Ben is proud of their comradery. “I’d like to call myself a good director, but I’m most proud of getting to work with everyone and getting to bring all these visions and ideas, talented actors, talented instrumentalists, [and] creative designers together.” They truly make up the perfect cast for the story they tell. 

Photo Courtesy of NUStage