Norah Long directs ‘Into the Woods’
She has received rave reviews and Artist of the Year awards, her work has won a Regional Emmy, she had over 100 lead roles and performed on stages around the world, but for actress and professional vocalist Norah Long, it took coming back to North Central to launch her into her next act.
Now an adjunct theater and vocal performance professor, Long draws from her extraordinary career and looks toward the future as she takes on the role of director for North Central’s Fine Arts spring production of “Into the Woods, An Epic Musical Fairy Tale,” March 19-29, at the Anderson Chapel Theater.
“Into the Woods” features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. It delightfully mashes together many of the Brothers Grimm characters, a witty adventure, and lively music with 20 students making up the talented cast.
But this show is no ordinary fairy-tale: It’s a human-tale.
“I wanted to make sure that people heard it with fresh ears and that people saw that all of these storybook characters are relevant for us today,” said Long.
“This show is really about the conflict between moral absolutes and independent decision making, free will,” explained Long. “The show…forces all of the characters in it to examine and consider what is right, what is wrong, what would I do in that situation.”
Senior theater major Abigail Liberator is excited about the direction “Into the Woods” is taking.
“Long is bringing out things in the show that I think a lot of other directors haven’t even discovered,” said Liberator, who is cast as Cinderella. “She’s bringing it into a modern setting and we’ve found parallels to social issues that we’re facing now.”
Liberator went on to explain that Long “has a very specific vision for the show and she just keeps pounding away at each scene until we find that sweet spot.”
According to Larry Bach, Dean of the College of Fine Arts, Long brings a unique sensibility to her directing. She has stood in her actor’s shoes.
“She has a style that the students enjoy, it’s collaborative, and they respect her,” said Bach. “She’s done so much, she challenges them and gives them ways to keep growing.”
Bach said that Long was one of the first students from North Central to make her living entirely through performing.
“She definitely has the ‘it’ factor,” said Bach. “She has a high level of both vocal and acting skills and that’s a great mix, she’s really carved out a terrific career.”
North Central served as a springboard for Long, while still a senior on the campus she was hired as the youngest-ever member of the Dale Warland Singers. Bach also sang and directed in the choral group.
In 2008 Long toured as a featured soloist with Lori Line’s Holiday Tour. Her work as a concert soloist has taken her as far as Japan, Germany, and Cuba, where she performed in 2013 with the National Symphony for Havana’s televised Cubadisco Festival concert.
Bach went on to point out that most of his students come to North Central to be music pastors or directors in church settings. But, like Norah, there are other students finding success in non-religious venues.
“Some have started music schools…and thanks to the addition of music education, now the school has music teachers,” said Bach.
Long is one of seven graduates of Bach’s program that serve as either part-time or full-time faculty in the music department.
When asked if the students find Long’s working history inspirational, Bach brought up his son. Alan Bach, a 2012 vocal performance graduate from North Central, is one of a handful of former students currently making a living as performers. Alan Bach just wrapped up a successful run of “Mama Mia” at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater.
But the Larry Bach family isn’t her only fan.
“I really look up to her and I respect her talent so much,” said Liberator, who started taking private voice lessons from Long as a freshman.
“She doesn’t let her students get away with doing subpar work. She’s really pushed me because she saw potential in me that I didn’t even know I had.”
Liberator credits Long with helping her craft her skills.
“Nora was the perfect person for helping me discover everything that I was doing wrong with my voice but also helping build up my confidence in the talent that I have,” Liberator said. “She has totally changed me as an artist.”
Perhaps the secret to Long’s ability to inspire at North Central while remaining relevant as a performer is her versatility. She’s worked with much success in many genres.
“It helps to be multifaceted, I do straight theater, I do musical theater, I do operetta and opera. I do church work, I can do concert work and jazz,” said Long.
For almost 30 years, with her crystal clear voice and fine acting skills, she has shined at theaters around the Twin Cities, including the Guthrie, Chanhassen Dinner Theater, and the Skylark Opera Theatre.