By John Hanright
The Barnstable High School Drama Club (BHSDC) production of Peter Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods had a sound start at its opening night on Friday, March 17. This BHSDC production of the musical is directed by Jeff Billard.
A morality play with such themes as trust in parent-child and spousal relationships, the consequences of wish-fulfillment, and the ambiguity of good and bad, the story stays true to the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault children’s fairy tales from which much of the plot and cast of characters in the original James Lapine novel are derived.
The set design at the beginning of the play is very minimalist, with only a plain cottage wall in the background. A modest Cinderella (Maddie Lamothe) sits on the floor and rhapsodizes about going to the King’s festival; Jack (Lindsay Massarsky) sits on a stool next to his cow, Milky-White; and the baker (Hans Baumler) and his wife (Julia Wiseman) are at their table with heaps of breads and sweets.
The prior set then lifts from the stage to reveal a forest of twisting and interspersed trees. Various characters trail through the woods, bringing a life to the set and conveying the unique messages and morals of each character.
When Little Red Riding Hood (Sammie Hurwitz) meets and dances with the Wolf (Nikita Schley), the contrast between the two is unmistakable. “Learning to do a choreographed dance was difficult for me because I had never done anything like that and I’m so lucky to have such great people…teaching me,” Hurwitz says.
The Wolf, with the musical interlude “Hello, Little Girl,” dastardly embodies temptation and lust, while Little Red Riding Hood’s lighthearted prance and benign naiveté frames a pretty picture of innocence and curiosity. Her solo, “I Know Things Now,” on the other hand presents a more guarded Little Red Riding Hood, who still maintains some youthful unfamiliarity.
Jack demonstrates the reckless abandon of youth by seeking adventure in a large beanstalk and chasing “giants in the sky.” Jack excitedly bursts into song and giddily glides across the stage like Gene Kelly.
Compared to Jack’s blind courage, the baker shows valiance by rescuing Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, even if the heroic act itself comes off rather ham-fisted. The baker also resists his wife’s attempts to convince him that “the end…justifies the beans!”
As it happened, the baker’s wife deceives Jack into trading Milky-White for five “magic beans.” All of this bartering leads a mysterious old man to ask the baker, “But could you buy yourself a child?” to which a child in the audience reasonably but unexpectedly replies, “No!”
Meanwhile, Rapunzel (Rachel Corliss), another child sheltered from the woods, by chance meets a prince (Matt Geiler) who wishes to rescue her by showing Rapunzel there is more to life than her tower. Rapunzel rebels against the Witch (Tianna Horsey), her overprotective adopted mother who unknowingly sacrificed her power over others to have renewed youth.
Cinderella also sings of “A Very Nice Prince,” eliciting laughs from the audience when she remarks, “I am being pursued…and I’m not in the mood.” Singing of devotion and desire in their heartfelt duet “Agony,” the princes lament the anguish of delayed gratification. The prince who seeks Cinderella’s hand is proud and arrogant in his inherited position of nobility, and both princes exude an air of irresistible persistence.
In the cacophony of overlapping voices and instruments at the end of each scene, lines are sometimes garbled or lost in the loud flourishes, such as in the “Act I Finale.” However, any crucial details lost in song are made up in monologue or dialogue. Far from getting swallowed up by the sweeping score, the Witch clearly projects her voice, belting out long ballads with remarkable pitch and tone.
Just when you might think all is resolved, Act II begins in earnest with the ensemble singing of their good fortune and happiness in a joyous musical number. Trouble is stirring on the horizon, however, and the characters are soon thrust into a crisis that blurs their morals and goals.
A common theme that resonated with cast members was found in “No One Is Alone,” one of the most tear-jerking songs in the musical. “That song in particular is about not really being alone, but you decide for yourself…It means a lot to me.” Hurwitz says. The comfort of the song is reassuring to many in the cast.
Geiler appreciates one particular part of the song for the way it approaches losing people in life, “whether that’s losing them for good or just losing someone if they move away,” the song “really hits home,” he says.
“It’s my first time truly acting and singing on stage, and I feel just being in my element and getting into character, I’ve had trouble doing that,” said Nikita Schley, who doubles as both the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince. “And the quick costume change from the Wolf to Cinderella’s Prince is so drastic…and I think teamwork has helped with that.”
“We’ve had to really come together,” says Sydney Crook, who is the lighting director and also plays Jack’s mother. “It’s been really fun, but it’s definitely been really challenging.”
For anyone looking for a fun, thought-provoking, and family friendly fairy tale play to see this weekend, Into the Woods is a shoe-in. The musical is on stage this weekend, March 24th and 25th at 7 P.M., with a special matinee at 2 P.M. on March 25th. General admission is $15 and $10 for seniors, students, active military personnel, and veterans.