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IU Jacobs School of Music alumnus returns for ‘Into the Woods’ performance

Feb. 6, 2017

Evan Rees, an IU Jacobs School of Music alumnus, is performing in Bloomington this week for the first time since he graduated in 2013.

Into the Woods cast photo

Evan Rees, front and center, will return to Bloomington as a performer for the first time since he graduated from the IU Jacobs School of Music in 2013. | PHOTO COURTESY OF EVAN REES

Rees is a pianist and the music director for Fiasco Theater’s production of “Into the Woods,” at IU Auditorium. The second show of the two-night production is tonight.

After graduating with a degree in composition, Rees moved to New York to start his career in musical theater. Inside IU recently caught up with Rees as he prepared to perform on his “home” turf.

Q: You’re returning to Bloomington for the first time as a performer. What are you most excited for? 

A: I’m so excited! I’m really looking forward to playing at the IU Auditorium. You know, I saw shows there as a student, and it’s such a gorgeous theater. I’m mostly just excited to be back in Bloomington, because it’s really my home away from home. There are a lot of people I miss and haven’t seen for a couple of years that I am excited to reconnect with. A bunch of my old professors are coming to see the show, and I will have the chance to sit in on the musical theater program’s master class that I used to play piano for.

Q: What drew you to musical theater performance?

A: I’ve loved musical theater since I was a kid. Throughout middle school and high school, I was in a lot of shows. I also studied piano for a very long time. In high school, those passions started to converged. I realized what I really loved to do was play the music of these shows and put them together. When I was at IU, I worked for the musical theater program as an accompanist for a few department shows and as a music director for student shows. That was when I really knew this was what I wanted to do. 

Q: Tell us about the show. Why do you think “Into the Woods” is a must-see?

A: For those who don’t know “Into the Woods,” it’s one of Stephen Sondheim’s most popular and best shows. The message is really important. It’s about people who spend a lot of time and energy to get what they want, or what they think they want, and then they have to deal with the consequences not only of learning it may not be what they wanted after all, but of how their actions affected others. The characters have to all come together as a community and get out of their collective mess.

We believe it’s a really important story to be telling. And the show really is universal; there’s something everyone can relate to. We are all very confident that everyone who sees it will come away with something about the world around them. 

Q: What makes this production of “Into the Woods” so unique?

A: The word everyone keeps using is “stripped-down.” The idea is that we want to approach the show in a way that puts the characters at the forefront, instead of distracting from story with spectacle. It’s about the text and the real humanity of the story. It focuses on who the characters are, what they are saying, and their journey. 

Into the Wood company performing on stage

Instead of playing piano from a pit, Evan Rees is on stage and in the center of the action for this production of "Into the Woods." | PHOTO COURTESY OF IU AUDITORIUM

Q: How is your role different in this production, and how did you prepare?

A: Instead of playing the piano from a pit, I am playing on stage. I’m more of an actor in the show; I even have a few lines. 

I am very embedded in the scene with the actors, and everything that I play is completely motivated by the action in the scene. I have to pay constant attention to what's happening. I’m always thinking about the music analytically. ‘Why this here? What does it have to do with the text? How does it feed into the scene?’ It feels like I'm speaking through the instrument as a character, which gives me a chance to understand the music on a deeper level. When you’re in the pit and removed from the scene, you don’t fully get the experience of what was written and why it was written that way.

Q: How did your experience as an IU student help you get to where you are today?

A: Pretty much everything and everyone contributed. To me, the great thing about IU is that there are so many opportunities and resources. I just went out and took advantage of everything. I took every opportunity and studied as much as I could. I had some absolutely brilliant professors who really challenged me and taught me so much. Sue Swaney was one of my biggest mentors, but I really think every single part of my IU experience was a contributing factor to my career. 

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