Golden Age Hollywood musicals often began with the crazy statement, "Hey! Let's put on a show!" and the rest of the story would revolve around getting that show ready to open.
It's been kind of like that at Bakersfield College this summer, where during the last four weeks the performing arts department has been in intensive rehearsal to launch the college's first musical theater production in about 20 years.
That effort, "Into the Woods," opens Friday evening at the Indoor Theater for a two-weekend run.
According to music professor Jennifer Garrett, who is vocal director and choreographer for several numbers, it all started when long-serving music professor Robert Martinez suggested doing a musical during a regular department meeting.
"Then nothing really happened for a while as there was not an appointed director for the show and no specific show selected," Garrett wrote in an email. "But then one of our newer full-time theater faculty, Brian Sivesind, stepped up to direct the show."
Garrett said she, Sivesind and other faculty settled on the award-winning Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical easily enough. The tougher decisions involved how to add another show — a musical no less — to the already crowded calendar.
"The main faculty involved in the production already have so many set productions during the school year," Garrett stated. "I do not know how we would add a musical to the schedule and survive."
Finding a couple of weekends in the very busy Indoor Theater during the school year was impossible. There was also the issue of costs — faculty and staff salaries, liability, production costs and other items — plus providing access to potential performers and crew who are already overloaded during the regular school year.
The solution? A four-week summer class.
"Doing a musical in a four-week rehearsal schedule is pretty crazy but doing a Sondheim musical in four weeks is just insane," Garrett wrote.
Much like the "Shrek" stories and films, "Into the Woods" treats the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault as a real, interconnected world, and twists the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Rapunzel, all of whose lives have been overturned by a Witch.
With music and lyrics by Sondheim and the script and direction by Lapine, "Into the Woods" premiered at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego for 50 performances in December of 1986. The next year the production and most of the cast moved to Broadway, with the important additional of Bernadette Peters as the Witch, Joanna Gleason as the Baker's Wife, for which she won a Tony Award, and Tom Aldredge as the Narrator/Mysterious Man.
That production continued for 765 performances, and in a year dominated by "The Phantom of the Opera," still managed to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award for best musical, and two more Tony Awards for best score (Sondheim) and best book (Lapine), while the original cast album earned a Grammy Award. The play was made into an all-star film including Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine in 2014.
The Bakersfield College production has involved a large number of faculty: In addition to Garrett and Sivesind, instrumental music professor Kathryn Kuby will conduct an 18-piece pit orchestra of students, community members and also music professors Martinez and Marcia Maynard and staff accompanists Patrick Bender and Marla Hansen. Voice instructors Ken Burdick and Cayley Mayhall and BC English professor Andrew Bond are featured members of the cast. Theater staff Kevin Ganger and Leslie Aldridge are directing students in creating sets, lighting and costumes.
Garrett said the four-week class time — officially limited to four afternoons a week — was never enough time to actually mount the show, which has been in technical rehearsal all of this week.
"The faculty and entire cast and crew have put in endless hours at school and away from school on this production and I, for one, really want the community of Bakersfield to come and experience these amazing people and this incredible musical," Garrett wrote.
Ever since the performing arts complex at the college was remodeled, the facility has been in almost constant use, and faculty schedules during the school year are unlikely to lighten, but Garrett said, insane or not, this is not a flash-in-the-pan activity.
"We would like to make this an annual summer tradition," Garrett wrote. "The Performing Arts Department, and really all of BC wants to bring the community to Bakersfield College. We want the community to witness for themselves the talent, the time, the passion, and drive and determination that we possess at BC."