NU Stage returns to the theatre with ‘Into the Woods’


Photo Courtesy Doga Tasdemir

The cast of “Into the Woods” performed the classic Sondheim musical in Blackman Auditorium Nov. 19 and 20.

Karissa Korman, news correspondent

On Friday, Nov. 19, and Saturday, Nov. 20, eager theatregoers filed into Blackman Auditorium for NU Stage Musical Theater Company’s rendition of “Into the Woods.”

NU Stage is Northeastern University’s premier student-run musical theatre group. Traditionally, the company produces two major musical shows, two concerts and two revues each year. However, since early 2020, the NU Stage cast and crew have navigated semesters that have been anything but traditional.

When the outbreak of the pandemic first sent students home, the actors, musicians and artists, who usually devoted their time outside of class and co-op to rounds of late-night rehearsals, moved their typical slew of productions online by translating cabarets into Zoom calls for the better part of almost two years.

“We did our very best to make them an enjoyable experience, but of course there’s always something missing,” said pit director Jerry Snow, a fifth-year mathematics major. “It was very much an emphasis on individual work because you would basically just record yourself doing whatever song or scene and then people would edit everything together.”

As the university planned for a more regular, in-person school year, students were eager to get back to the classroom, and those with a penchant for performance were eager to return to the auditorium stage for “Into the Woods.”

Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” intertwines several iconic fairy tales into a musical story that follows Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Cinderella and a childless baker and his wife who journey into the woods to lift a witch’s curse. The storybook ensemble explores the consequences of characters’ wishes and adventures as their paths collide in the woods.

Scores of student actors, musicians and artists convened with NU Stage to bring this troupe of iconic characters to life. After days of auditions and callbacks in September, rehearsals for “Into the Woods” began just in time for the academic workload to pile on throughout October and November. 

“At times it was very stressful, but theatre has always been an escape for me because I have a very demanding major. It’s been really nice to get away from the numbers and the science,” said Anna Schneider, who played Jack. 

Schneider, a first-year chemical engineering major, took a midterm the day before she donned the cap and tunic costume of her character for the first showing of “Into the Woods.”  

“It’s very much everyone supporting each other all the time, and people always understand if you have a really long day or if you have a test and have to go home early,” Schneider said. “Everyone understands because they’re going through the same thing you are.”

With a music-heavy show ahead of them and only seven weeks to learn every piece, pit director Snow added extra rehearsals into the orchestra’s rehearsal schedule. The rest of the NU Stage performers fit vocal rehearsals, blocking rehearsals and technical practice into their hectic array of mismatched schedules, often practicing late into the night. 

The race to the show’s Friday debut took a village of students beyond the visible pit musicians and the cast on stage. Set designers, costume designers, tech crew members, prop managers and promotional creators put in their time, work and talent alongside the live performers to create the show. 

“It’s crazy how many people it takes,” said Erica Cordischi, a fourth-year nursing major who played Little Red Riding Hood. “You don’t even realize it until you see them all at the cast party.”

With so many students milling around the auditorium in the weeks leading up to its premiere, NU Stage adopted several pandemic safety precautions — none of its members eager to halt in-person gatherings with the promise of packed audiences ahead.

Face masks and weekly testing in tow, per university requirements, the performers wore special masks suited to singing and playing woodwind and brass instruments.

“I think a lot of acting is in facial expressions. When more than half of your face is covered, you have to learn how to act physically with your body and using just your voice to convey emotion,” Cordischi said. 

If working around masks and instrument covers was a learning curve, the performers showed no sign of it as each show ended with enthusiastic ovation. 

As NU Stage’s first theatrical show back from the pandemic’s social lockdown, theatregoers matched the company’s hunger to return to the auditorium.

The potent anticipation in the air before the lights in Blackman dimmed and the uproar of applause as the cast took their bows was a testament to the role that theatre, a uniquely live and communal experience, plays in artists’ and audiences’ lives as both parties hope to finally emerge from the long months of isolation. 

“You never actually got to play or sing with one another,” Snow said, reflecting upon NU Stage’s past online shows. “I think that is the absolute biggest difference coming back and something we missed so much, the feeling of being in an ensemble or collaborating with one another and hearing that come together.”

For many Northeastern students, NU Stage offers creativity in community, self-expression and self-discovery. As the fairy tale characters of “Into the Woods” came together on stage to lift the curse and resolve their misadventures, the cast and crew of the show below the stage lights and behind the scenes watched as months of trial came to a happy ending. 

“You never realize how much pretending that you’re somebody else on stage can make you feel like yourself,” Cordischi said. “I feel like myself so much more this semester than I have in a year and a half.” 

Whether they were raised in the theatre or joined on a whim in college, students have found their voices on stage and behind the scenes, and this fall’s “Into the Woods” finally brought these artists back into the live spotlight where their hard work, talents and passions shine brightest.