Kicking off the spring high school musical season is an ambitious effort from Lakeland Junior-Senior High School, the challenging fractured fairy tale “Into the Woods.”
Created by the team of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, the Tony Award-winning play takes everyone’s favorite storybook characters and throws them into a blender.
It begins with a humble baker and his wife, who wish to have a child, but soon involves Cinderella, Jack (of beanstalk fame), Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Rapunzel and her Prince, a Witch, a Mysterious Man and even the narrator.
Performances will take place at Lakeland’s auditorium, 1593 Lakeland Drive in Scott Township, on Friday and Saturday, March 1 and 2, at 7 p.m., and a matinee performance on Saturday, March 2, at 2 p.m. Tickets will be available at the door one hour before curtain time, and are $10; $5 for students.
“The process for choosing the show is similar each year,” explained director Catherine Carter. “My music director Bryan Brophy and I begin discussion after classes start, when he can have a better idea of the singing talent available. “Into the Woods” was one of four shows we considered. Ultimately it was the students’ excitement in performing ‘Into the Woods’ that convinced Bryan and me that we should produce it this year.”
Carter said the large ensemble cast allowed many students to get involved.
“In the original Broadway cast, several of the characters were played by one actor. Because we, at Lakeland, had so many students audition, we decided to cast each role individually, allowing more students to join our production. It gave Bryan and me the great opportunity to introduce young people to theatre.”
One unique challenge this play presents is the music of Stephen Sondheim.
“Sondheim is notoriously difficult,” she said, “but I had trust and confidence in Bryan, and in the students’ abilities to learn Sondheim’s music. It also is giving the cast an appreciation for those who write music and lyrics for musical productions.”
Although other plays were considered, Carter said she always gravitated back to “Into the Woods,” which has a special place in her heart.
“I absolutely love ‘Into the Woods.’ Having played the role of Baker’s Wife twice has been an honor and a privilege,” she said. “I was introduced to the show when I lived in the Harrisburg area. Harrisburg Theatre produced it before any other theatre in the area. It was a new and different type of show at the time, and it taught me so much. What I like about it is that it combines the fairy tales we all know, but it explores what happens to the ‘happily ever after’ part of the stories. It takes a different look at the characters and makes them think about the consequences of their actions.”
Ask any high school theater director, and they’ll tell you that two of the biggest difficulties they face is the heavy schedule of extra-curricular activities most students have (with weather issues coming in a close second).
“Dealing with the extra-curricular activities of each cast member is definitely a challenge. We grapple every year about scheduling the production later in the year. It’s not only extra-curricular activities — Bryan and I have our own, too. However, youngsters are resilient. Somehow, they do what is necessary to make it all happen.”
Carter noted that Lakeland is losing several passionate students at the end of this school year, seniors who have been involved with the musical productions since seventh grade, both on stage and backstage, as well as in the pit band. There are at least 11 graduating.
“They will truly be missed in future productions,” she said.
Carter thinks what audiences will take away from the production is that it “shows how anyone can make their own, personal ‘happy ending’ in life. Society has glorified blaming others for our own misfortunes, and ‘Into the Woods’ explores this troublesome idea. The highlight will be the students’ portrayal of their characters in act II, when they are faced with the fact that not always does everything work out in the end.”