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The Last Word
By Ken Butler

Bit by bit,
Putting it together,
Piece by piece,
Only way to make a work of art.
Every moment makes a contribution,
Every little detail plays a part.

– Stephen Sondheim, “Putting It Together”
from “Sunday in the Park with George”

Art, in any form, begins with an idea. Brian Cordeiro ’03, then a rising senior in Muhlenberg’s theatre and dance program, came to Department Head Charles Richter in March 2002 with an idea: He wanted to direct Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” Though Charles had reservations about the scope of the project, he asked me if I’d be interested in working with Brian on the production.

Since my discovery of his work while I was a college student, I have studied Sondheim more closely than any other composer for the stage. I was not, however, willing to work on one of my favorite musicals with someone who didn’t have a thorough knowledge of the show, so I took Brian to lunch one bright spring day and quizzed him in depth about the show. In one 20-minute conversation, he convinced me that he knew enough about “Into the Woods” for me to feel comfortable working with him.

As the spring semester drew to a close, Brian and I met with the set designer, Assistant Professor Timothy Averill, to talk about the physical requirements of the show. Tim had read the script and had a fair idea of the way the show is usually mounted, with small houses for the main characters of the story and a large wooded area that served as the playing area for most of the show’s scenes. Tim had even thought about some of the show’s ‘tricks’: Since “Into the Woods” is a story starring familiar storybook characters – Cinderella, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), and Little Red Riding Hood, among others – there are several complex magic effects that must occur in front of the audience. Tim had already come up with novel solutions for several of the effects we’d need to produce. The meeting was positive, upbeat and fun; I felt very confident about the state of the production as we headed into our summer break.

 

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