Photo courtesy of Eric Melzer
Theater Wu's Into the Woods
Folklore — Some well-known English folktales are based on older Asian stories.
One doesn’t immediately think of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods as an Asian musical, mainly because it is based on characters from various English and German fairy tales, including those of the Brothers Grimm.
Nevertheless, Theater Mu Performing Arts artistic director Rick Shiomi decided to do the show after canvassing his company of musical-theater performers and discovering it to be the most frequently suggested show. Theater Mu is an Asian-American theater company, however, so Shiomi had some work to do.
“My particular take is to costume and set it in Asia, because the musical is based on folktales, which have resonance in Asia. Some are even based on Asian tales,” Shiomi says, “so I could set it there without spoiling it.”
Shiomi chose to align the fairy tales with a variety of different cultures. “Cinderella’s transformation for the ball made me think of the beautiful dresses from the Philippines,” he explains. “Red Riding Hood is set in Southeast Asia, and Jack and the Beanstalk in the Hmong culture.”
The second act, which describes what happens after the stories reach their “happily ever afters” at the end of act one, is given a more contemporary feel. “It reflects our Asian-American lives,” Shiomi says. “We don’t change the words, but visually take in our experience.”
Another anomaly is that the show is going to be performed at Park Square Theatre, a first for both Theater Mu and Park Square audiences. Neither entity is a stranger to cross-cultural experimentation, and Shiomi insists “the show is a perfect fit for Park Square. I feel we can do our own spin on the show in a lovely way, with a 99.9 percent Asian cast, while still creating a sense of the original musical.” July 20–Aug. 5. Park Square Theatre, 20 W. 7th Place, St. Paul, 651-291-7005, muperformingarts.org