Matthew Gardiner’s ‘Into the Woods’ casts a spell decades in the making


Blame is in abundance on a late-October afternoon at Signature Theatre’s Shirlington house as the forged of “Into the Woods” rehearses the Act 2 patter music “Your Fault.” Reeling from tragedy, the nature of the Baker has cooked up a recreation of culpability sizzling potato with Cinderella, Little Crimson Using Hood, Jack and the Witch in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1987 fairy story mash-up.

As Matthew Gardiner observes from a nook of the practice session studio, the musical’s director-choreographer interjects and instructs with a calmness that belies “Your Fault’s” moved quickly pace.

Cross ‘Into the Woods’ at Signature Theatre. Pop out charmed.

“That is arduous, guys, however don’t let it get manic,” he tells his solid. “Its tempo is defensive, however no longer manic.” Later, he makes a decision to tweak the scene’s motion at the fly and upload a second when the Baker uneasily circles Jack. “This would possibly get too busy,” he concedes, “however let’s check out it.” As the ability dynamics within the music shift and twist, Gardiner reigns over the room with soft-spoken authority.

“He has an excessively transparent concept of what will occur in each and every practice session,” says Erin Weaver, who performs the Baker’s Spouse, in an interview. “He’s were given an excessively certain hand, which is reassuring. However he nonetheless greets you with a hug, and it nonetheless appears like a in point of fact protected house, and it doesn’t really feel like our possible choices and our concepts are excluded from that certain hand.”

The assertiveness is especially unsurprising in this manufacturing: Gardiner recalls falling in love with theater when he was once 6 years outdated and gazing the PBS model of “Into the Woods” that was once captured on Broadway in 1989. He therefore wore out 3 variations of the “Into the Woods” cassette tape, he remembers, and had a penchant for draping a sheet over his shoulders and dancing round the lounge pretending he was once Bernadette Peters making a song “Ultimate Middle of the night.”

Even supposing Gardiner labored as an assistant at the manufacturing of “Into the Woods” that inaugurated Signature’s Max Theatre in 2007 and helmed a scholar staging at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon College in early 2020, this model of “Into the Woods” — which formally opened Nov. 9 and runs thru Jan. 29 — marks his first crack at directing a certified manufacturing of the display.

“I imply, it’s the whole thing for me,” says Gardiner, who took over as Signature’s creative director remaining 12 months after greater than a decade with the theater. “I do get this nostalgia when this song performs. There’s an image of me in my administrative center as somewhat child, and each every now and then — no longer at all times — I simply see that image and cross, ‘This child would no longer imagine that he’s getting to try this at this time.’ ”

Gardiner didn’t look ahead to getting some other adventure with “Into the Woods” so quickly, figuring a 2019 revival at Ford’s Theatre would hang over D.C. audiences for years yet to come. But if the inimitable Sondheim died a 12 months in the past at age 91, Gardiner says, “all the season that we had been making plans fell away.” Because the regional theater that has produced extra Sondheim musicals than every other, Signature reimagined its 2022-23 programming as a “Season of Sondheim,” with “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd” becoming a member of the already deliberate “Pacific Overtures” at the docket.

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Cognizant of each previous “Into the Woods” productions within the space and the star-studded revival now on Broadway, Gardiner and scenic clothier Lee Savage set aside their retelling by means of putting it in a decaying Victorian nursery — taking part in up the darkly comedian story’s bedtime tale aesthetic. The encompassing woodland, in the meantime, creeps in the course of the floorboards and bursts in the course of the partitions. Nodding to the display’s emphasis on group, Gardiner picked a solid nearly completely composed of native actors and veterans from his previous productions, together with Jake Loewenthal because the Baker, Katie Mariko Murray as Cinderella, Alex De Bard as Little Crimson Using Hood and Nova Y. Payton because the Witch.

“I will see him imagining us because the characters that he’s imagined for 20, 30 years,” says David Merino, who performs Jack. “His obsession with the piece is palpable, and it makes us wish to in point of fact succeed in for his targets and succeed in for his dream manufacturing.”

Gardiner additionally embraced the logistical demanding situations of staging a musical that requires a sprawling 21-person solid and 15-piece orchestra — all inside the confines of an intimate, 275-seat theater. It’s a talent he has honed over time whilst tackling such enforcing undertakings as “West Aspect Tale,” “Billy Elliot” and “A Refrain Line” and showcased remaining vacation season when he marked his first season in command of Signature by means of directing a raucous revival of “Hire.” Whilst level supervisor Kerry Epstein says Gardiner has a knack for making such thorny endeavors glance simple, it’s all a part of the spell he casts over his audiences.

“He can see the place all of the items are going to occur,” says Epstein, a Signature veteran who has labored with Gardiner on some two dozen productions. “It kind of feels like so little effort went in to make it occur, when this is completely no longer true — it’s been so painstakingly considered and crafted.”

In addition to Gardiner is aware of “Into the Woods,” the musical — in large part about folks, their kids and the characteristics we inherit — took on new that means after he misplaced his father, Amos, in April. When Gardiner listened to the forged album as a kid, he recalls ceaselessly skipping the bittersweet ballad “No Extra,” sung by means of the Baker and an apparition of his father. “Now, it’s extra grounded in one thing fair,” he says. “And after they sing ‘No Extra,’ I’m a ruin.”

It’s becoming for a display that conveys how the messiness of on a regular basis existence can complicate the happiest of endings, all whilst residing at the enduring timelessness of our formative years fantasies.

“As I am getting older, [‘Into the Woods’] turns into an increasing number of profound and transferring and deep,” Gardiner says. “Each time, you’re discovering new issues and listening to lyrics in new techniques. I feel that’s what’s particular in regards to the display: It’s actually a display that’s no longer suitable for every age however somewhat speaks to every age in numerous techniques.”

Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. 703-820-9771.

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