Hopkins High production ‘Into the Woods’ is out of the ordinary

The school’s fall production digs deeper in Steven Sondheim show

Hopkins High’s fall production, Steven Sondheim’s “Into the Woods,” isn’t the typical high school theatrical production.

There is no booming chorus that interrupts the plot for a big musical number. Instead, the plot evolves through the music and through the lyrics. There are only 20 cast members, and every student portrays a main character.

“Everybody in it is somebody,” said David Williams, artistic director.

The plot

“Into the Woods” is a unified story of characters from Brothers Grimm fairy tales – Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack from “Jack and the Beanstalk,” among others – who journey into the woods to achieve their dreams and fulfill their wishes.

“Into the Woods” is broken into two acts. In Act One, the characters plot out their dreams and make plans to see their wishes become accomplished.

“The first act is really sort of uplifting,” said Williams.

But, Act Two is where reality comes to bear, said Williams. The things the characters wished for are not necessarily making them happy.

“The characters discover that happiness has greater depths than wishes fulfilled,” Williams said. “Cinderella gets the prince, but the prince doesn’t turn out to be a wonderful husband as much as he is a charming prince. So, disaster strikes.

“They’re catapulted from the safety of fairy tale into the potential crisis of reality,” Williams added.

And that’s one of the overarching themes of the production – reality. Williams would not concede that the production has a happy ending.

“It resolves realistically,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s all happy endings, but it’s a more real ending.”

Junior Leon Hedstrom said he’s enjoyed working on this production because of its experimental nature and because its subject matter goes deeper than a traditional fairy tale show.

“I like it more because it’s got a lot of reality to it,” he said.

The cast and crew

“Into the Woods” features 20 students in the cast, 15 pit orchestra musicians and more than 20 handling the costumes, lights, sound and stage set transformations.

Rehearsals began in late September with the students putting in nearly three hours of work each day after school.

Two weeks before opening night, senior Zach Matson said there is plenty of work remaining but knows all the loose ends will soon be tied.

“It’s going to come together,” said Matson, the show’s stage manager. “It’s got to.”

He has been part of six productions throughout his career – acting, operating the soundboard and as a member of the running crew, among others – and is relishing his role as stage manager.

“The cool thing is you get to dab in all aspects,” he said. “You kind of see the whole thing come together.”

Senior Claire Manning, who plays the Witch, has enjoyed rehearsing with such a small cast.

“It’s really nice because we get to bond closer with the cast because we directly influence each other,” she said.

The subject material of “Into the Woods” is intriguing to her as an actress, as well.

“It’s really been cool to portray characters with lots of levels of complexities,” said Manning, now in her seventh high school production. “It really has a great message.”

And as the subject matter might challenge the audience, senior Ellen Carter has found producing the show to have its own challenges.

“This is especially musically challenging,” said Carter, an alto. “There’s a lot of hard rhythmic stuff. It’s nice to be forced to sing a little higher and I feel like I’ve become a better singer throughout the show.”

The experience

Williams said the show provides a unique energy that viewers watching a movie or TV show miss out on.

“There’s an interaction between the actor and audience that you can’t get on a screen,” he said. “There’s something about it actually happening right in front of you. There’s a power to that.”

There is value in dazzling an audience, Williams said. But, he added that the collective audience experience is enhanced when a production offers complexities and deeper ideas.

“Entertainment is nice, but when there’s depth, when you can walk away talking about it…this show is just more than entertainment,” he said. “There are some ideas to think about. I’d love to have people come to the show and have those conversations.”

“Into the Woods” performances are 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, Friday, Nov. 30, and Saturday, Dec. 1, with a matinee show 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. The 7 p.m. evening performance on Saturday, Dec. 1 will include a fundraising opportunity for Breast Cancer Research. Monetary donations from the audience will be matched by the Hopkins Royal Producers parent booster organization up to $400. Tickets are $6 for students and senior citizens and $10 for adults. 

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