David Roth is a Stephen Sondheim aficionado.
In the spring of 2002 Roth was in his 2nd year as director of Staples Players. In the aftermath of 9/11 — with Americans still shell-shocked and saddened — he replaced his original spring production choice with “Into the Woods.”
The Sondheim musical weaves together several popular fairy tales. It’s funny and uplifting. A major theme — how people from different walks of life band together in the face of crisis — fit well with the country’s post-9/11 mood. It won the prestigious Moss Hart Award — one criteria of which is “social relevance.”
Ten years later, Staples Players are again producing “Into the Woods.” This time, though, 9/11 has faded from most Americans’ memories.
And something else has changed: Two years ago, Lucy Roth was born.
Being a father — and working with co-director Kerry Long, who plays dual roles as his wife and Lucy’s mother — has caused Roth to examine “Into the Woods” with fresh eyes.
“I realize now there’s another theme: the legacy parents leave for their kids,” he says.
“After Lucy was born, Kerry and I see how our actions are reflected in her.”
Songs like “Children Will Listen” have influenced the couple’s direction of the current production, Roth says.
In fairy tales, Roth now realizes, “there are almost no fathers.” Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Cinderella — all referenced in “Into the Woods” — have forced the director to think deeply about fatherhood.
In the show’s “new” fairy tale, a baker and his wife try to begin a family. They finally succeed — but the wife dies, and the baker must bring up the child alone.
“We’re focusing on those things more,” Roth notes. “Last time we concentrated more on the havoc the giant was inflicting on people, and how they overcame it.”
Roth and Long have used their insights as parents to help their teenage actors understand the dreams their parents have for them. “We share some of our own personal experiences,” he says. “We describe our discoveries as parents, and how we’re learning about life through Lucy.”
Joanna Gleason — who won a Tony Award for her portrayal of the baker’s wife — spent time with the Staples cast. She too discussed how the show resonates with her as a parent. (Then she went into the studio, to tape some audio. She will be heard on the Staples stage, as the voice of the giant.)
David Roth and Kerry Long have taken their young — but very talented — Staples actors on a long journey “Into the Woods.” This weekend and next, audiences will marvel at how far they’ve all come.