Wednesday, Apr 23 2014 01:26 PM

Troupe goes into the woods

  1. 1 of 5

    By Michelle Guerrero

    The surly Royal Steward (Brett Walker, left) is a good foil for Cinderella's vain Prince (Josh Lubatti) in "Into the Woods," which opens April 25 at The Empty Space.

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  2. 2 of 5

    By Michelle Guerrero

    The Baker and his wife (played by Chris Burzlaff and Emily Candia) undertake a dangerous mission to lift an infertility curse in "Into the Woods," opening April 25 at The Empty Space.

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  3. 3 of 5

    By Michelle Guerrero

    Little Red Riding Hood (Victoria Lusk) has some growing up to do in "Into the Woods," which opens April 25 at The Empty Space.

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  4. 4 of 5

    By Michelle Guerrero

    Cinderella's Prince and Rapunzel's Prince (played by Josh Lubatti and Kevin Ganger) find it's hard to live happily ever after in "Into the Woods," opening April 25 at The Empty Space.

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  5. 5 of 5

    By Courtesy of Jesus Fidel

    To coincide with the opening of "Into the Woods," The Empty Space Gallery will feature "I Wish," an 11-work exhibit from Christina Sweet and Alisyn Palla.

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BY STEFANI DIAS Californian assistant lifestyles editor sdias@bakersfield.com

Fairy tales bring larger-than-life characters into existence, so it's no wonder The Empty Space went to epic lengths for its production of "Into the Woods."

"It's a musical about telling stories, the stories we tell and how those stories can affect us," said director Brian Sivesind. "We took the storytelling and made it somewhat literal."

Related Info

'Into the Woods'

When: Opening gala, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; show runs through May 24

Where: The Empty Space, 706 Oak St.

Admission: $20

Information: 327-7529

'First Look'

Can't wait until Friday? We'll have Emily Candia (the Baker's Wife) and Chris Burzlaff (the Baker) on "First Look with Scott Cox" today discussing the production and singing something from the show. Tune in starting at 9 a.m. on Kern 1180 AM or bakersfield.com.

'I Wish'

To coincide with the opening of "Into the Woods," The Empty Space Gallery unveils the exhibit "I Wish" on Friday. Inspired by the musical, the show is a collaboration between artists Christina Sweet and Alisyn Palla. The title piece is a 16-by-20-inch acrylic on canvas layered with a metal frame and trees meant to evoke the characters' life-changing, yet terrifying journey during the musical. There are 11 pieces total, ranging from a Little Red ready to take on the world and Rapunzel locked in her brick tower to Cinderella's meddling bird friends and the witch who sets the story in motion. An artists reception will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. May 3 featuring the actors and refreshments.

When the show opens Friday, audiences will walk into an oversized bookshelf with volumes measuring 8 feet high and 4 feet wide. Given the scale of the set, Sivesind and crew were still hard at work building as of Monday.

"(It's one of) those ideas that sounds great in theory. But I think it will be worth it. We wanted to raise the production value of this show."

The popular Stephen Sondheim musical, which revisits well-known fairy-tale characters facing new adventures, was selected to appeal to a wide audience.

"People love old stories told in new and exciting ways. I think the musical is about 30 years old (but) the music is somewhat timeless. People connect to it and can really enjoy it."

Sivesind said shows like "Into the Woods" are the exception at the black-box theater, known for edgier fare and sometimes obscure shows, and that extra care was taken in pre-production.

"We've been rehearing for over two months. We focused on it. When we find a play that needs a good set and costumes, we want to do it right."

Jennifer Keller of Fantasy Frocks served as the theater's fairy godmother, working with board members Michelle Guerrero and Ellie Sivesind on the costumes for the 21-member cast.

"The degree of difficulty is a lot higher for this production," Brian Sivesind said. "To fit a big show in this space, we've had to pay more attention to the details. This ain't no 'Our Town,' no faking props," he joked of the theater's minimalist production last November.

Sivesind adapted the show's framework based on auditions.

"Our narrator are two young ladies who auditioned (but) they were too young for Little Red. Our Little Red (Victoria Lusk) is 17."

Youth theater regulars Lexie Watkins and Sequoia Whitten split the role of the narrator, who in this production makes the story possible.

"It's a little girl reading 'Into the Woods.' As she reads it, they come to life. In act two, she takes on the story and it starts getting darker."

The story, which boasts a Disney-worthy first act before delving into the franker side of fantasy, begins with four people -- Cinderella (Nancee Steiger), Jack of beanstock fame (Kyle Gaines), and a baker and his wife (Chris Burzlaff and Emily Candia) -- who all have a heartfelt wish.

Scrambling to gain ingredients for a spell so a witch (Berean Chambers) will lift an infertility curse, the couple cross paths with Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel (Cody Ganger), Jack's mother (Julie Gaines) and two princes (Kevin Ganger and Joshua Lubatti) among others.

Adventures continue in the second act, when everyone learns to be careful for what they wish.

Sivesind said that even though the setting is fantastic, the lessons are down to earth.

"It's real how we deal with real-life situations; the idea that these fairy tales can really speak to our lives."

The show opens big this weekend with gala performances that include a reception. Though the theater usually collects admission on a donation basis, Sivesind and the board decided to charge admission this weekend and make an occasion out of the ambitious production to address a significant need of the theater. Just as previous high-profile productions have helped fund props and a theater remodel, the current gala targets a desperately needed piece of equipment: a $4,000 light board.

"This is the biggest purchase we've ever made," Sivesind said. "It was overdue. ... We'll never be able to have a bigger space in this space, (so) we're limited. With lights, you're only limited by the equipment. You can make different spaces with light."

The purchase will make things easier for lighting designer Michael Mallinson, who's teamed with Perrin Swanson for the show.

"Mike has designed lights for 'Spring Awakening,' 'Next to Normal' and now 'Into the Woods.' ... He brings in his own instruments. He kept lending us a light board."

The $20 gala admission includes a dessert bar, giveaways, music, libations such as Little Red and Milky White wine and Angry Orchard cider as well as specialty cocktails Princess Punch (strawberry lemonade, vodka, 7-Up) and Poison Apple (Apple Pucker, ginger ale, grenadine).

"Michelle and her crew go into some fun stuff."

A bit of magic is evident in the show's titular number with the entire cast, including Sivesind as the Mysterious Man, on stage.

"It will be challenging," he said. "We have pass-arounds, places where actors can hide. Thank God I've got Brent Rochon helping (with choreography)."

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