‘Into the Woods’ cast from 1999 to reunite

April 01, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau

Claude Pensis has a living, breathing reminder of the last time Grand Canyon University mounted a production of the musical “Into the Woods” — and the difficulty involved in doing so.

The year was 1999, and the reminder is 15-year-old Zachary Gray, who then was busy being born to Jeff and Kay Gray. Jeff had been cast in the role of the musical’s narrator — not an insignificant part — but needed to drop out at the last minute when Kay’s pregnancy became difficult.

Pensis, who already was directing the production and running lights, took on the narrator’s role.

Jeff Gray had to pull out of the 1998 production of "Into the Woods," and Claude Pensis hasn't let him forget it.

Jeff Gray had to pull out of the 1998 production of “Into the Woods,” and Claude Pensis hasn’t let him forget it.

“All of a sudden, I was in the show,” recalls Pensis, who oversaw the theatre program back then and still does, as dean of GCU’s College of Fine Arts and Production.

“I’m happy little Gray was born. But if he had waited, I would have been happier.”

Says Jeff Gray, smiling at the memory: “Claude was in the worst position he ever wanted to be in. He hasn’t let us live that down.”

The popular Stephen Sondheim musical closed out the 1998-99 Ethington Theatre season, just as it will the 2013-14 edition. The current production, which opens on Friday night and is directed again by Pensis, sold out in advance for all six of its performances across two weekends, capping a spectacular season for the theatre program. A full-scale opera (Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte”) and C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” were among the year’s highlights.

Jeff Gray may have had to leave “Into the Woods,” but he and Kay remain part of GCU. Jeff, who graduated in 2001, works in employee learning and development and has been employed by the University for nearly nine years. Kay, who graduated in 2006 after a career as a professional hairstylist and now works in student services for GCU, has done hair and makeup for Ethington shows for years.

The Grays will be part of a reunion of the 1999 “Woods” cast, scheduled for the final performance on April 13. Jason Hammond, who played the role of Jack in the ’99 production and now works as a performer in Chicago, pulled it together on Facebook. Nearly 20 members of the cast and crew are expected to attend.

“We put it out there that tickets would go fast,” Jeff Gray says.

The arts program’s renaissance is a source of pride to the Grays, who are understanding of alumni who still might harbor hard feelings. The program was closed in mid-2006 as the University struggled financially, but it was revived under CEO Brian Mueller and Pensis four years later and is now thriving again, with quality work being done across the board.

“I’ve been telling (alumni) that this is the time to come back to their alma mater,” Jeff says. “They’d be proud.”

Performances of “Into the Woods” will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday over the next two weekends. Single seats may come available just before the opening curtain.     

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].

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