Pasadena Playhouse’s Danny Feldman wanted to expose students to the best that musical theater has to offer, so he turned to the iconic Stephen Sondheim production “Into the Woods. ”
More than 200 Pasadena Unified School District students are participating in the production of the classic fairy tale musical, culminating in three free performances on Thursday, Jan. 26, and Friday, Jan. 27, at The Pasadena Civic.
The shows kick off a six-month celebration of Sondheim at the Playhouse. It’s many years in the making. In fact , Sondheim, who died within November 2021, was still alive and Feldman consulted him about the festival. The composer plus lyricist gave his blessing to the particular entire festival and, in particular, towards the collaboration in which students and educators from four Pasadena high schools are involved.
The particular production has been refreshed with local perspective, referencing Pasadena geography, landmarks, history associated with the region plus social and systemic challenges that regional underrepresented communities have faced.
“We got approval in order to do this big project, which is two full productions, concerts plus the high school ‘Into the Woods, ’” Feldman said.
“We had to send the pitch letter to Mr. Sondheim. He knew this was going to happen and he approved it. ”
Two of the performances will be for other PUSD students only while the particular final 7 p. m. production on Jan. 27 will be open to the public. That production will feature Jane Kaczmarek as the narrator while Alexandra Billings will provide the particular voice of the Giant at all productions.
The remaining events from through June 11 will include full professional productions associated with “Sunday within the Park with George” and “A Little Night Music, ” concerts by two rising stars, a community choral event and, as the grand finale, a special concert simply by Broadway diva Bernadette Peters, who served as Sondheim’s muse.
The particular Pasadena Playhouse has a history of working with PUSD, something Feldman said is important to them because they want to show that will anyone can be a theater maker, especially those in school.
“If you’ve ever worked on a musical in high college or done a show, this creates the formative experience for you, ” Feldman said.
“We desired to create that, and we wanted in order to do it within a really special way that was above the normal senior high school musical encounter. ”
That started, he said, by bringing all the high schools together for any citywide task and then pairing them with professionals who will certainly not just educate but unleash the imagination of students. While Pasadena Playhouse shows feature expert designers, directors and consultants, this project brings college students together in art classes to learn about the show, read the particular script and have all of them design the show.
“Everything folks will see on the particular stage comes from the imagination of all these PUSD students, ” Feldman said.
“It’s not just the actors and the musicians that will be there, it’s the particular costume design, the paint. All of that came from the imaginations of these kids. That was our goal and our experiment. Can we bring professionals plus high school students together with this great piece of art have them make something beautiful together for the community to share? ”
Karen Anderson, the particular arts and enrichment coordinator for the Pasadena Single School Area, said she and Feldman began talking about this particular collaboration regarding four years ago, searching with regard to a way to produce something meaningful for their learners and community.
They had several ideas when the pandemic hit and put things upon hold.
Anderson stated they not only possess drama plus choir teachers at every high school, but they also have talented visual and media arts educators.
“I really wanted a balance of involvement by our own four comprehensive high colleges, ” Anderson said.
“I looked at the strengths of the teaching staff and broke it down after speaking to instructors. I chose different teacher leaders through each senior high school in different areas of style. Each high school took a lead in each area of the manufacturing elements. ”
She has been impressed with the creativity of the design students and the project-based guidance from the teachers as well as the research everyone has done.
Auditions were held in every high college back in September with choir and drama teachers helping students to prepare. More than 100 students performed a Sondheim song and the monologue before a professional panel. They then kept callbacks plus selected a balance associated with students from all four high universities representing almost all grade levels.
“In terms of the particular actors within the display, the growth has been incredible, ” Anderson mentioned.
“It’s not surprising due to the fact we have incredible talent in our district, but we paired that talent along with professionals when they haven’t had the opportunity to work with professionals previously. Most of our college students don’t take private voice lessons, regarding example. So , with this experience, our singers have got been dealing with professional tone of voice coaches. The kids have felt themselves change as stars and performers through this process and get treated as professionals. It’s elevated their experience within so many ways. ”
Feldman said they made sure in order to have professional mentors — ranging through stage managers to music artists — working with learners since Sept.
While they may be performing at The Pasadena Civic, all of the rehearsals and builds have been in the schools. Pasadena High School provided the rehearsal space. Other schools involved were John Muir High School Early College Magnet, and Blair and Marshall Fundamental higher schools.
“Our philosophy of this was that since we were trying to unlock the passion, imagination and creativity of the students, the best place to do that would be in the particular school, ” Feldman said.
Students required a field journey early on to The Pasadena Civic plus Anderson stated the energy was amazing.
“They were just awestruck by the size and the immensity, ” Anderson said, admitting that the girl teared up watching their own reactions.
“It actually hit them what they’re really doing here. They are experts that are usually going in order to be on an expert stage with professional lighting and sound. They’re likely to be showing who we are and what we can perform to the entire Pasadena and Los Angeles local community. It was simply joyous plus electric along with this incredible bonding across high educational institutions. ”
As a fan associated with Sondheim and his work, Feldman was excited to get his work prior to people that may not have heard of him. He’s already been thrilled to see the student response to work that over the years hasn’t always had the particular warmest welcome among musical theater lovers.
“A lot of criticism during Sondheim’s career was that will his music was inaccessible or that it has been elitist or wasn’t really for everyone, ” Feldman mentioned.
“The idea that all of us just brought this in order to high school students who else instantly gobbled it up and there was no elitism or even barrier intended for them. They are really finding their own joy plus creativity and putting their particular own spin and their own thoughts upon the words plus acts that will we all know so well. It is really fulfilling and thrilling. All we’ve ever needed. ”
La Director Fran de Leon did tablework with students in just about all departments to make the show relevant to all of them.
She led discussions on exactly what the woods would mean for them and where would it be. These people discussed class and privilege and how this might translate into costumes and set design.
Anderson points out that the themes of “Into the Woods” are both obvious and subtle. Students could dig into it at concrete and abstract amounts.
“What does it mean to be in the woods politically, socially, economically? ” Anderson said students explored.
“What will it mean to pretend that everything’s OK plus then actually look in what is under the surface. The styles of gender and identity are very strong in the show. Kids are connecting with it on so many different levels and really digging into the rich language and designs of the particular text. The particular critical and creative thinking that this has sparked continues to be really significant in conditions of the educational process and its creation. ”
Anderson described this particular production because an all-star event, one where the particular best college students from each high school were introduced together to do something actually meaningful.
“Our students plus our programs in our own schools are usually so incredibly strong and rich, ” Anderson stated.
“The talent that we have in the schools deserves a second look — or even the first appear. It’s really important in order to celebrate the diversity plus creativity and talent of our students. ”
“Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim w/students from PUSD plus Pasadena Playhouse
WHEN: Thursday, Jan. 26, to Friday, January. 27; free public performance 7 p. m. Fri, Jan. twenty-seven
WHERE: The Pasadena Civic, 300 E. Green Street, Pasadena
COST: Free on Friday, Jan. 27 for that public
INFO: 626-356-7529, pasadenaplayhouse. org , pusd. us/intothewoods