There are many folks in this community who often attend the high school musical even though their kids graduated from OPRF High School years ago or even though they never even had any kids at the school. These shows have always been a huge draw. The productions are so impressively mounted that audiences find them to be affordable and irresistibly enjoyable.
Stephen Sondheim’s 1987 revisionist fairy tale, Into the Woods, the current “spring” musical at the school, is big and busy and bewitching. Directed by Michelle Bayer, this handsomely staged show is the ultimate fractured fairy tale. The cast — especially the leads — is uniformly strong and focused. Their vocals and comic timing are superb. The costumes and set are picturesque.
The fairy-tale characters interact in unexpected ways while making their trek through the woods. After the “happily ever after” first act, Act 2 displays the grim consequences of each character’s earlier actions.
This sophisticated show is more thought-provoking than vintage musicals like last year’s Anything Goes, which provided a wonderfully fun bit of old-time escapism.
The Tony Award-winning book and score are by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim.
Sondheim’s lyrics are so jam-packed with intricate word play and various levels of meaning that often even adults have trouble taking it all in. There are layers of wit and meaning in all of the songs.
The singers, never faltering, give every clever word of Sondheim’s tricky lyrics strong enunciation. And instrumental director Patrick Pearson’s 33-piece orchestra provides a lush Broadway sound that gets every nuance out of the intricate score.
The plot combines four familiar fairy tales — Cinderella, Jack & The Beanstalk, Rupunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood — with a fifth storyline that binds them together. A poor, childless baker and his wife are on a quest to reverse an evil witch’s curse by fetching key ingredients for a potion. Max Gonzalez and Elena Awe are superb as the baker and his wife, serving as the heart of the musical.
I wish we had space to include the names of all the wonderful unseen students in the orchestra pit, the technical staff, the carpenters, the sound and lighting workers, and all the many others who have mounted this show.
I think I counted about 88 young people on stage during the biggest scenes, which incorporate both a vocal and dancing ensemble. In addition to the leading roles, the cast has been supplemented with a large chorus of woodsy storybook folks plus nine fairy sprites who perform lovely dances that punctuate much of the plot. Amber Hooper is the choreographer. Meredith McGuire is the vocal musical director.
The Narrator, Tommy Figel (in modern dress), launches the evening and lends a strong periodic focus.
Caroline Orlin is a delightfully assertive Little Red Riding Hood, though she’s all curiosity and innocence as she sets off for Grandma’s house. Drew Krueger is the ferocious Wolf.
Julia Fortman is girl-on-the-run Cinderella, her stepmother played by Olivia Zapater-Charrett, and her mean-girl stepsisters are Sophia Zinger and Lizzie Maguire.
Beanstalk Jack is played by Noah Kitso and his mother is Isabelle Picciotti. Erin McCammond-Watts is the Witch who often steals the show. And Pierce Boyd-Bagby makes a perfect Mysterious Man.
Margot Frank is Rapunzel. Patrick Wicklow is Rapunzel’s prince and Rory Schrobilgen is Cinderella’s prince. Both characters, though handsome and debonair, are arrogant and shallow. The latter points out he was “bred to be charming, not sincere.”
Jeffrey G. Kelly’s enchanting costumes and Patricia A. Cheney’s hair and make-up give a whimsical look to the storybook characters.
Jacob Fisher and Teslen Sadowski’s scenic design is a bi-level structure that’s both a beautiful and an ominous forest featuring several giant trees. The set is so vast there is no need for lengthy or elaborate scene changes.
Families with small children should perhaps think twice about taking them to see Into the Woods. Nothing truly inappropriate happens but the tone of the show isn’t for kids despite the fact that they’d probably initially recognize the storybook characters. We see that even in fairy tales stuff goes badly: vows of “forever” expire, people we love can die or desert us, and evil is ever-present.
Cinderella sings “No one is alone,” and “Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the woods.” Other universal themes include family relationships, parenting, and community connection. Little folks might grow restless or bored.
There are many standout performances in this complex musical production. The singing and orchestral accompaniment are terrific. Into the Woods thrusts us into a magical world full of witches, wolves, giants and mysterious strangers where familiar fairy tales get all tangled up.
It’s an impressive evening. Two performances remain: this Friday and Saturday evening.