Published: Jan. 30, 2020

MSU Department of Theatre draws inspiration from Detroit for staging of  ‘Into the Woods’

Contact(s): Abigail Tykocki College of Arts and Letters, Beth Brauer University Communications

MSU is giving the Tony Award-winning, fairytale-themed musical “Into the Woods” a creative re-imagining designed to resonate with mid-Michigan audiences. Inspiration for the set and costumes came from images of Detroit in the 1930s. The Michigan State University Department of Theatre production by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine will run for 10 performances Feb. 14-23 in MSU’s Fairchild Theatre.

“Into the Woods” debuted on Broadway in 1987. Audiences may know the musical — which intertwines the plots of several classic fairytales like "Little Red Riding Hood," "Cinderella," "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Rapunzel" — from the Disney film adaptation starring Meryl Streep released in 2014.

The story follows a childless baker and his wife in their quest to begin a family. But during this journey, they encounter many storybook characters and are even cursed by a witch.

Despite the well-known characters, this show is not suitable for young children. “It’s a parable for adults,” said Deric McNish, director and MSU assistant professor in the Department of Theatre. “It starts as a familiar story that becomes unfamiliar, exploring the compromises people make in the name of achieving their goals and the sometimes tragic and frightening consequences of those decisions. It asks important questions like ‘what happens after your dreams come true?’”

Exploring themes of resilience and community, the musical’s design team drew inspiration from Hollywood glamour in the 1930s and Detroit’s urban sprawl during the Great Depression.

“Our production lives in the space where industry meets uncultivated forest,” McNish said. “The woods are a place where we can escape our responsibilities, but when tragedy strikes, people can only survive it by coming together. That’s what makes ‘Into the Woods’ the right show for this moment.”

The production will also feature digital animation, media projection and puppetry created by graduate students pursuing their master’s in design alongside a cast of talented actors, singers and dancers.

McNish says the musical continues to resonate with modern audiences because “from darkness emerges a story of community, resilience and how we work to build something better.”

Tickets for “Into the Woods” start at $22 and are available online at, at the Wharton Center box office, or by calling 1-800-WHARTON.