Patriot Produces Sondheim’s Fairy Tale Musical “Into the Woods”

Cast members sing the finale to ACT I; L-R, Bryanna Murphy (Witch), Eric Gordon (the Steward) Kaitlin Seay (Rapunzel), Bryan Smith (Prince Charming) and Alex Mirabal (Snow White.)

Patriot High School’s Theatre Department will be performing the Stephen Sondheim fairy tale satire “Into the Woods” this week, beginning April 3 at 7 p.m.

Director Kathryn Facemire called the Broadway hit her absolute favorite musical. However, she waited for the right cast to come along before she could produce it, knowing the musical numbers are extremely difficult. After building the Patriot theatre program over three years, this year, she believes she now has that cast.

“I knew the tremendous talent we had in terms of our students, a lot of whom are seniors,” Facemire said.

Because of the complexity of the music, she did not cast her usual large ensemble, instead choosing twenty-something of her best players. “They are all leads,” she said, as it really is an ensemble show.

And because she feels the show is nearly perfect as written, Facemire has decided to produce it with few alterations.

But don’t believe it is all “bibbly-babbly-boop!” Despite the subject matter, she promises it is a Sondheim show. Sondheim, who wrote “Sweeny Todd,” is known for being dark. While this show is less macabre than that tale,”Into the Woods” is not without its “Grimm” moments.

Qwen Murphy as Little Red Riding Hood with Will Scheid as Jack from "Jack and the Beanstalk."

The musical is unique in that it defies the audience’s expectations of fairy tales. Yes, the characters predictably sing that they have found their happy ending, but perhaps deceivingly so, since that number signals the end of ACT I.

Facemire explained that she wanted to direct the musical before it was remade by Disney next year. This way she could stay true to the original, and audiences would not expect Disney magic that is often way beyond the budget of high school performances.

Yet Facemire expects that, given the choice, she would prefer the original, which allows the characters, rather than the special effects, to take center stage.

Disney and Hollywood alike have come to realize that it is not only children who are fascinated with fairy characters. Much like “Into the Woods,” popular television shows such as “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm” have capitalized on fairy tale characters stepping out of their bedtime stories and into our more sophisticated imaginations.

But, whereas those shows introduce those characters into our worlds, “Into the Woods” stays if not firmly rooted in fairy tale land, within the realm of the story book.

“It’s written tongue and cheek,” Facemire said. “At one point the entire cast actually turns on the narrator. We embrace the silliness and the whimsy.”

The Baker's Wife, Kaelin Carreiro, has stole Rapunzel's hair, to assist a spell that would allow her and her husband, played by Casey Thomas, to have a baby.

And while she said she is not trying to copy anything television show or films are doing right now, she does understand why people are clamoring to see their fairy tale favorites all together.

“It appeals to any audience,” she said, “because the characters are instantly recognizable.”

She believes her audience will want to better get to know Cinderella, Snow White, Prince Charming, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and their other favorite childhood characters.

As with any story, all these characters want something, but their heroes’ journeys intertwine in the woods, leading them to face off against one Evil Witch before they can live their happily ever afters. The characters also have more spunk than readers may remember from their bedtime stories.

That is one reason why members of the cast say it is thrilling for them to embody these characters they grew up with as imaginary heroes and heroines.

Bryanna McPherson, 12th grade, was ecstatic to be cast as the Evil Witch, the villain in “Into the Woods” that everyone loves to hate.

“She’s sassy, like me. I love it,” McPherson said. “Everyone said I should have been this person.”

Even though the Witch laments the loss of her youth and beauty through most of the play, McPherson knows she’s no crone. “You just know she’s hot,” she said, and ultimately, she doesn’t think she’s evil, either.

The Evil Witch, played by Bryanna McPherson leaves Rapunzel (Seay) in a bind.

“I’m not evil; I’m helpful,” she said.

Qwenyth Murphy, 11th grade, also auditioned for the Evil Witch, but was cast as Little Red Riding Hood instead. That’s okay with her, since she’s come to realize she is more Little Red than she is Evil Witch anyway.

“She’s a very outgoing character,” Murphy said.

Murphy agreed with Facemire that “Into the Woods” is musically challenging, and she has witnessed her fellow actors come together despite 18 weather-related interruptions.

“We put a lot of hard work into the music. It’s exciting to see it all coming together,” Murphy said.

Not only did the cast need to learn the music and lines, they also helped to create the set and props, which includes a carousel horse on a bicycle and a robotic cow that is operated by a student from the inside. Facemire said the large-scale props are really fun, and her department always does a fabulous job even creating difficult

Cinderella's step sisters are blinded by birds. L-R Emily Stedman, Laura Kline, Abby Gram as the Evil Stepmother and Gabe Yelanjiab, as Cinderella's father.

mechanisms, as they did for “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Facemire said she didn’t hold longer rehearsals to make up for the snow days, but she did require her actors to give it their all.

“[I told them] I need your best, and they have been giving me their best,” she said.

Prince Charming, played by Mark Cummins, hatches a plan with the Steward, played by Eric Gordon.

Show times for “Into the Woods” are April 3, 4 and 5 at 7 p.m. in the Patriot High School auditorium. Tickets can be purchased at the theatre box office before the show.

The Patriot Theatre department is an award-winning high school drama group in the State of Virginia. Patriot High School is located at 10504 Kettle Run Road in Nokesville, Va.

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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