“OK, let’s try that again.” Groans flow from the stage and orchestra and Jessica Tavenner, Conductor, and Andy Kiser, Artistic Director, reset a scene to iron out a wrinkle. The second time through, it flows like it should, and all is well in The Woods.
This week is Tech Week for the annual CCHS Spring Musical, and this year Andy Kiser and his team have picked a doozie – Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-Award-winning show Into the Woods. The show opens Friday, March 23, and runs through Sunday, March 25, in The Williams Community Auditorium at J-WMS. Show times are 7:30PM Friday and Saturday, and 2:30PM on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students, and will be available at the door. This year’s show is sponsored in part by The Bank of Clarke County, and generously supported by many Berryville and Clarke County businesses and individuals.
Originally produced on Broadway in 1987, it ran for a total of 765 performances and counted acclaimed Broadway actresses Joanna Gleason and Bernadette Peters in the cast. The 2002 revival, which featured Vanessa Williams in the role of The Witch, ran for 279 performances. It has also proven to be a popular title for high schools to produce, but it’s complexity cannot be overlooked.
In this show, the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel (extended out for The Baker & his Wife), Jack & the Beanstalk, and Little Red Ridinghood are woven together into a tale about dreams and wishes, the realities of the world, and what’s really important in life. Not a simple “kids’ show,” it’s a tale for the grownups as well as the kids, filled with classic songs, lots of humor, and the idea that “wishes come true, not free.”
When asked why he picked this show, Mr. Kiser said that he was looking for a show that would push and stretch his young actors, that would afford some interesting staging options, and one that hasn’t really been done in the area that much. Several students had mentioned this show, and indeed he indicated it has been on his “short list” of shows for several years.
“The technical aspects, and the fact that this show is Stephen Sondheim at his wily best, make it a tough show to do,” Kiser said. The Librarian at Johnson-Williams Middle School, this is Kiser’s 12th spring musical here in the division, and he’s enjoyed the challenge of it all.
Kiser said he liked the “mash-up” of several familiar fairy tales and the many colorful characters that show up. “Overall, it is a smaller cast than we typically set up, but it meant that we could focus more on the characters and their songs. Plus, I did stretch it a bit by adding in Woodland Sprites and the 3 Little Pigs to fill out the stage crew roles and give kids an opportunity to be a part of something special.”
While on a break, several of the principal actors got together to talk about the show and their parts in it. It was clear that, even though they have different experiences and interests outside the show, they also have a good rapport with each other and are pumped to bring this story to the stage.
Josh Coumes, a junior at CCHS, always has a ready smile and has enjoyed becoming The Baker. His character’s storyline, an extension of the “Rapunzel” story, presented him with a great opportunity, he said, to “play a reluctant hero.” He added, “Learning the ins and outs of Sondheim’s music has been the biggest challenge, but it’s been fun. ‘Your Fault’ is my favorite song!”
Playing the role of Cinderella, CCHS junior Addison Peacock just bubbles over with energy and enthusiasm for her part, the show, and musical theatre in general. “I’m really thrilled to be in this show, because I just love Stephen Sondheim’s music! The challenge has been to do it right.”
Playing the role of Jack the Giant Killer is Tony Shipman, a CCHS junior. He’s enjoyed his role, and the fun of working with his friends in the cast. He added, “While it’s never fun not getting sleep from January to March, I’ll do anything for my giants in the sky and Milky White.” This brought loud laughter out of everyone in the group.
Logan Williams, an 8th-grader at J-WMS, is excited to make her debut in a musical. She’s really enjoyed learning her character, Little Red Ridinghood, even if the music is tough. “’Your Fault’ has a tricky rhythm, but it’s amazing now.”
Sydney Wilkins and Elizabeth Blight share the roles of The Baker’s Wife and Cinderella’s Mother in the show. Sydney, a senior, is very happy to be in this show this year. “It’s the perfect final show. It’s challenging, a little edgy, and I get to play such a dynamic part. I liked the challenge of the music, and of making the part memorable.”
On Sunday, Elizabeth rotates up into the role of The Baker’s Wife and Sydney puts on the tree costume as Cinderella’s Mother. After thinking about the question for a beat, she said that she likes “the depth of her character, and the music. The hardest part has been keeping the tempo of the songs in sync with the dialogue.”
Another CCHS senior glad to be a part of the show is Jesse Robinson, who starred as Harold Hill in last year’s production of The Music Man. Jesse plays Cinderella’s Prince and Wolf 1 (of “Little Red Ridinghood” fame), and has enjoyed these roles this year. “I like that I get to stretch as an actor and play two really different roles.” He echoes the others’ opinion that the music has been tough, but it’s been worth it because, in his words, “this show is going to be great.”
Pulling off a production like this, with its many different layers and moving parts, requires a good team, and Mr. Kiser readily applauds his assistants. “There’s no way I could do it all…the costumes, the choreography, the vocals, the sets…if they weren’t a part of my team, these shows just couldn’t happen like they do.”
Jessica Tavenner, the Conductor of the orchestra, has the second-longest tenure on these shows with Mr. Kiser. The music teacher at Boyce Elementary, Ms. Tavenner wields her baton with a flourish as she controls the flow of each scene from her perch in front of the audience. “I love seeing the final product come together as a group effort,” she said. “The enthusiasm and talent of the cast, crew, orchestra, faculty, and parents creates something really worthwhile for everyone involved. It’s really an uplifting (and entertaining!) experience to pull something like this off.”
Another returning team member is Jennifer Coleman, the Costume Designer. A 5th grade teacher at D.G. Cooley by day, she has helped out with costuming the musicals the past two years as well as the CCHS Fall Play. Of the kids and her work with them, Mrs. Coleman said, “Costuming for this show was very fun. I was able to be a little more creative with the actors’ apparel, since it was a fantasy driven show. I wasn’t limited by a specific time period or required to make characters look ‘normal.’ One of the kids even mentioned that the costumes are almost Tim Burton-like.” Judging by the way she’s greeted when she shows up, it’s clear the kids are glad to have her help them look good.
This show also brought two new members to the team. Dr. Susan Merriman, a music teacher at Foxcroft School, joined the team as Vocal Director. She’s been impressed with the dedication and perseverance of the actors in the cast, she loves that “everything in this musical happens in song.”
Christine Brewer, CCHS Theatre Arts and Spanish teacher, also takes on an expanded role as the choreographer. She said, “It was fun to see how excited the kids got about the little bit of dance we get to do in the show. It isn’t much, but it’s simple and effective and that makes the actors comfortable doing it.” Additionally, her Theatre I class helped with some of the set pieces and dressing, and she said her students enjoyed it a lot. “I enjoyed the pride they felt when they completed a project and could say ‘That’s my tree.’ It means more to them because they are a part of the magic that is happening up on stage.”
Mr. Kiser echoed this sentiment. “Part of what makes these productions special is the fact that these are memories that these kids will take with them for the rest of their lives. Whether it’s as a cast member, or a musician, or on the crew, or by helping paint a tree or a house or whatever – they can look at the stage and say ‘I helped with that. I’m glad I signed on.’ That’s really what it’s about, and what makes all the stress, and headaches, and long nights worth it.”
As the dress rehearsal continued, Mr. Kiser and his team turned their attention once again to helping these talented young actors bring this show to the stage. If past years are any indication, the energy and enthusiasm they bring will mean another successful show.