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Mansfield Magazine

Q&A With Music Director of Upcoming Into the Woods Show at Farr Best

Apr 02, 2015 10:12AM ● By Kevin

Dilhya Ross.

The Brothers Grimm "go Broadway" in this adaptation of one of Stephen Sondheim’s most popular works, designed especially for young performers. All of your favorite characters—Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (and his beanstalk), and the Witch—meet and interact in the whimsical original story, Into the Woods, which comes to Mansfield this month.

The show takes place at 
Farr Best Theater, kicking off with a preview night on April 16 at 7:30 p.m. Opening night is April 17 at 7:30 p.m. The matinee shows at 2 p.m. on April 18, and closing night is April 19 at 7:30 p.m. Student and senior tickets start at $12 and can be purchased at or by calling 817-473-2822.

The musical centers on a baker and his wife who wish to have a child; Cinderella, who wishes to attend the king's festival; and Jack, who wishes his cow would give milk. When the baker and his wife learn that they cannot have a child because of a witch's curse, the two set off on a journey to break the curse and wind up changed forever.

We caught up with musical director Dilhya Ross, who talks about her career in music, her professional relationship with Sondheim, and the Mansfield community.

Mansfield Magazine: 
So you'll be the musical director of this show. What makes this show special to you? How has it been so far? Where are you in the process?

Dilhya Ross: Into the Woods is a particularly special show for me, so I am very excited to be the musical director!  I had the honor of performing excerpts from Into the Woods, as well as other Stephen Sondheim works, for the Children and Music Benefit performance celebrating his 75th birthday.  I also played the character of Lucinda in a separate production.

Our show has been going really great so far. We had a little trouble finding male performers, which can be a concern when producing shows with young actors. That said, we have a great cast. They are very intense and are really soaking in the workshop aspect of this production. It’s always a good thing when the actors don’t just want to be in a show, but they want to be in this show. They’ve all done their research, referencing the original Broadway cast recordings. 

I’ve sung a lot of his music, including this show, and it is not the easiest stuff out there.  The cast sounded great coming in, but now it’s really fantastic seeing them make their own choices and develop their own characters musically.  Actors are now off book and we’re approaching tech week. (Tech week is the week before the show, when all the elements come together: scenery, lighting, sound, etc.) 

MM: What other things have you done in/around Mansfield in the arts scene over the years? Can you give us an overview of your experience?

Ross: My degree is in music education, vocal emphasis, but I have been in theatre almost as long as I can remember. Before moving to New York, I worked with Plano Rep, Garland Civic and Theatre Britain. I also did quite a few shows with Stephanie Riggs at the Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre, one of which was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Sondheim. 

After I moved back from New York, I really wanted to find a job where I could share my love and passion for music.  I stumbled found an ad from Music Place Mansfield and instantly felt a connection. Apparently they felt the same connection with me, and I began teaching. After a year of teaching, Mrs. Bishop, owner of Music Place Mansfield, asked me to start an acting program.  I was thrilled! 

Since then, we have produced over 10 shows at venues such as the Farr Best Theatre, Mansfield Town Park’s Amphitheatre and The University of Texas at Arlington’s Rosebud Theater. Our most recent production was Dear Edwin, Jr., performed at the Farr Best Theatre. The theatre has been newly renovated and it was truly an honor to produce the first theatre show that house had hosted in several years. In fact the show received such a great reception that Discover Historic Mansfield was kind enough to invite us back for another show. We were very excited to get that call.

MM: What makes Mansfield a special place for the arts? How exciting is this opportunity for both you and the community at large?

Ross: Mansfield has a rich musical history and culture. We are very lucky that our city not only supports the arts and theater, but encourage it!  The City of Mansfield, Discover Historic Mansfield and the Economic Development Corporation spend lots of time, energy and money bringing some incredible musical acts to Mansfield and the Farr Best Theater. At Music Place Mansfield, we do everything we can to support their efforts from posting event flyers in our store to hosting some of the events ourselves. The one thing I hear over and over is “It’s nice we don’t have to go to other cities for entertainment like this.” I am really proud to be a part of that sentiment.

MM: Are there any new details about this particular show that we should know about to update our current information? Where can people buy tickets and get more info?

Ross: This is going to be a fantastic show and I really encourage people to go see it. Opening night is a special event. Audience members are encouraged to dress in formal attire. We are tipping our hats to old school show biz glamour.

MM: Tell us a little about yourself - your personal hobbies, likes, experiences, upbringing. It can be as detailed as you'd like.

Ross: I was raised with my grandparents and diagnosed as hyperactive in the fifth grade. My doctor suggested piano lessons to allow me to “get the energy out.” I instantly fell in love with music, and to my grandparents’ surprise, the doctor was right! In the sixth grade, I joined band and played the tuba. By the seventh grade, I knew the stage was for me and signed up for choir and theatre as well. I began college as a piano major, but soon had to acknowledge my terrible stage fright when it came to piano.  

My vocal studies, however were progressing steadily, so I decided to change my major. Even though I was classically trained, I had a broad range of musical interests and was lucky enough to study in programs that featured a lot of musical theatre. I graduated from Hardin-Simmons University with my degree in Music Education, with an emphasis on voice.  There I scored my first Sondheim role, as the Baroness in Candide. 

After college I taught public school choir for two years, but the acting bug started biting again and I went on to perform in various choral ensembles and theatre tours from Montana to Florida. Taking a leap of faith and following my dream, I moved to New York City to pursue my acting career. In New York, I performed with several companies off-off Broadway, many of them focusing on children’s theatre and young audience outreach.

Despite my outgoing theater self, I am pretty much a homebody. I’ve never missed an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I love reading – my favorite author is Orson Scott Card. I spend a lot of time with family – We have a very large extended family that gets together about once a month, just for birthdays and holidays alone.

MM: Talk about Stephen Sondheim's 75th birthday - how you got involved, what it was like, the honor and joys of working on that particular project.

Ross: Being a part of the Sondheim 75th Birthday Celebration was literally a once in a lifetime opportunity. My best friend since fifth grade, Michael, who had move to New York City about a year before me said the musical director, Kevin Stites, reached out to him and asked if he knew any vocalists that would be interested and available to sing chorus. He immediately contacted me and who would say no to that? I was crazy excited, but also extremely nervous. I mean we come from a really small town (Corsicana, TX) and at first I doubted my education and experience. His music is no joke. It’s very syllabic and rather accidental, the same tune in, like 28 keys. It’s almost Bach-like. But Michael gave me a pep talk, I picked myself up, and on the downbeat of the first number, it was just magical.

At one Point during rehearsals Mr. Sondheim came out to thank the chorus for donating their time. He was so kind and gracious and standing eight feet in front of me. I really thought I was going to pass out. I felt like I was truly in my element and would not have traded places with anyone. That performance was just everything and for so many reasons. First, Stephen Sondheim is musical theatre royalty. Everything he does is gold. Secondly, I was going to be on stage with so many theatre icons like Patti LuPone, Texas native, Betty Buckley, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Whoopi Goldberg. 

I have to talk about Whoopi. Not only do I consider her my acting mentor (although technically I’ve never met her), but my Michael and I actually became friends by bonding over one of her movies we had no business watching in the fifth grade. Sondheim’s 75th was particularly special to me because we were to be at the Amsterdam Theatre, which is where The Lion King opened on Broadway. Now, this was my favorite movie (the only one I’ve ever seen in the theater twice) and Michael took me to see the show for my birthday the first year I was in New York. It also happened to be the tenth anniversary performance of the show that night. So doing the Sondheim Celebration in that house, the Amsterdam, just sent me over the moon.

For more information on the performance and venues, follow the links below.

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