Long before Shrek and his abrasive donkey made fairy tale spoofs trendy, Stephen Sondheim set Broadway ablaze with Into the Woods, a humorously grim take on Grimm. While Sondheim’s peculiar, often atonal melodies are beloved by theatre connoisseurs, his work is more challenging and unusual than that of, say, Andrew Lloyd Weber.
It was this sense of challenge that made the play a good prospect for Park Manor Public School: Into the Woods will be the school’s first play in two years.
“It’s definitely been a challenge,” said staff member Natalie Massicotte, one of the directors. “[The students] have found it’s not just the pretty-sounding music that they might be accustomed to. I think they’ve definitely risen to the challenge.”
She continued, “Nobody had ever really heard of Sondheim before, so it was kind of nice that we were able to open up their view on musical theatre. It’s a nice new experience for everyone, and luckily enough, the movie hasn’t come out yet, so it’s still a fresh idea.”
The school will be taking on an abridged version of the show adapted for middle school productions – in this telling, the first-act “Happy Ending” really is the happy ending. Still, the complicated music and labyrinthine plot (encompassing Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack, his beanstalk, and many other familiar characters) have given the students plenty to live up to.
“At first, we were all a little bit intimidated by the piece, and just understanding fully what all of the different parts of putting on a play would be. We didn’t have a play last year, so for a lot of the students, this was their first opportunity to be in something like this.
Rehearsals started in January, with the cast now meeting for practice three mornings each week. Over time, the group has made Sondheim’s classic its own, Massicotte said. “At first everybody was a little bit timid, but now they’ll try things on their own, and characters will come into their own.”
She continued, “We knew we had some students coming up who had really great talent, so we knew they would be able to handle it. … It’s amazing to see the commitment we’ve had. There are 35 students in the cast, and every morning they’re there right at 7:30 ready to go.”
Into the Woods plays at Park Manor Public School (18 Mockingbird Dr.) on April 29, 30, and May 1. For ticket information, contact Connie Maier at Park Manor PS.