The musical “Into the Woods,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and based on the book of the same name by James Lapine—the original director—has held a special place in the hearts of Mineola’s John and Cathryn Mezzo.
After premiering on Broadway in 1987, the same year the two met, it was a production they both fell in love with.
“It’s something that has such a beautiful story, a great message, beautiful music and has stayed with us through our married life,” said John.
Some 36 years later, “Into the Woods” debuted earlier this month at the Long Island Children’s Museum in Garden City, except this time the Mezzos weren’t in the audience, but behind the curtain.
It was the first play under Mezzo Theatrical Productions, a venture between John and Cathryn, a Williston Park native, that has allowed them the creative freedom and a certain level of professionalism to explore their passion.
John, a Brooklyn native, has been a lifelong theatre junkie since he saw the musicals “Grease” and “Annie” on Broadway. Locally, John, with a number of regional credits, was a Herricks Players veteran and performed with the community group on and off since 1991.
Cathryn, the artistic director who designed and put together all sets and costumes (and even Milky White, the cow that is on stage as much as any actor), first got her start in theater as a teenager when she was invited to do set design for a community play. Her background also includes work with the Players, a career in graphic design and Mezzo Art + Design, where she works in more fine art, including painting, illustration and fiber art.
For the cast of 15, who also included John as the narrator, the premiere on Friday, Aug. 4, culminated nearly 2 1/2 months of work to get the show together.
“Doors opened at 7 p.m. for opening night and we were either sewing costumes or painting trees until 6:45,” Cathryn recalled jokingly. “It was no days off and 12-hour days leading up to it.”
Despite the fast-paced environment behind the scenes, the Mezzos said it would not have been possible without both the performers and friends that helped backstage.
Instead of a village, it takes a kingdom, John said, which is why they included their twist on the old adage on their playbill.
“We had a great cast that came prepared and it made a huge difference,” John said. “We also had a mix of friends and family that were a very big help.”
Producing and funding your own play can come with its own set of challenges and rewards, something the Mezzos thought they were prepared for but still had to overcome.
John said directing and producing came with its own complexity, ranging from the amount of administrative work to getting started to the play itself, lining up both dialogue and music so they can interact with each other at the right times.
“When you’re in charge you do have creative control,” John said. “But you also own every aspect and need to find a limit for what’s possible.”
After six shows over the first two weekends in August, seeing the finished product come to life was a different feeling altogether for the Mezzos.
“It was so overwhelmingly beautiful and visually it exceeded my expectations,” John said. “It was great to see how our community of friends and family came together.”
Moving forward, Mezzo Theatrical is planning on what to do next in terms of either a smaller play, another musical or holding acting classes between shows, John said. Cathryn added she hopes Mezzo Theatrical could provide more opportunities for interested young adults to take part in the arts.
“It’s a great learning experience for anyone involved,” Cathryn said.
Another focus would be finding a more local home in the immediate area.
“There’s nothing scheduled officially, but there will be something in the future and we are figuring out what that will look like,” John said. “There will be a presence of our company in the community.”
For now, the Mezzos are looking toward their next production, set to premiere soon.
“We’re doing a show next week called vacation,” Cathryn said.