Pasadena Playhouse opens 2023 season with first-ever student-led production

By Giuliana Mayo

“We work very hard here at the Playhouse to take the elitism of theater out of it, and just meet everyone where they're at,” says Artistic Director Danny Feldman. Photo courtesy of Pasadena Playhouse.

The new year brings a new season and collaboration to Pasadena Playhouse. The theater will co-produce a student-led production of the late Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” partnering with Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD). Long in the works, the season celebrates Sondheim’s catalogue and was designed to bring people back to the theater after pandemic closure. 

Artistic director Danny Feldman says the PUSD students are paired with theater professionals to put on the show. “Over 200 students coming together to not only star in the show, but be in the orchestra, make the costumes, design the costumes, help with the lighting –– all of the different facets of theater, truly to make it from their imaginations.”

These 200 students came through a call that the Playhouse put out to all five PUSD high schools. “We picked the best of the best who came together. And then the rest of the kids who didn't get cast, we gave them opportunities in terms of the other aspects of making a play, since acting is just one little aspect of that.”

Feldman says it was important to the Playhouse to give the students “the keys to the car,” so they have input on all aspects of the production.

“We work very hard here at the Playhouse to take the elitism of theater out of it, and just meet everyone where they're at,” Feldman notes. 

He says they didn’t come into the project trying to teach the students about Sondheim’s importance, but “I think throughout the process … they've fallen in love with Stephen Sondheim.” 

He continues, “They've understood the complexity and depth and nuance of the work, especially how it compares with other musical theater. And so I have had the pleasure of popping into rehearsals and seeing students' eyes open wider to this, and really finding an immense joy and fun in putting this together.”

“Into the Woods” will run for three performances at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on January 26-27 — two for students and one for the public at no cost. 

“We're delighted to be able to offer that so the friends and family members and just anyone in the community who cares about all things Sondheim or all things high school musical theater are welcome to come and cheer on these wonderful young people who are giving so much of themselves for all of us.”