‘Into the Woods’ at Woodrow Wilson High School’s Theatre Arts

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Into the Woods is magical in two ways: the performance is out of this world, and; some time travel must have been involved to get Yana Madrid (the Witch) and other characters back from their blossoming Broadway careers. The excellence of performance, direction, costumes, sets, lighting, choreography and the community orchestra makes the production worthy of a much longer run in a larger venue. Not counting many of the parent volunteers, the program lists close to 200 individuals who worked together to make this production possible.

The Baker and his wife (Ben Topa and Sophie Thurschwell). Photo courtesy of Woodrow Wilson Hight School.
The Baker and his wife (Ben Topa and Sophie Thurschwell). Photo courtesy of Woodrow Wilson High School.

The musical incorporates the central aspects of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk. Plots are tied together by an original story by James Lapine with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim about a childless baker and his wife who are trying to break the curse of barrenness placed on them as a result of the baker’s father raiding the beans in the Witch’s garden to satisfy the cravings of his pregnant wife. The characters are followed to explore the consequences of their wishes and quests. At the end of Act One, every character seems to be on the way to fulfilling their own desires.

Alas, actions often have unforeseen consequences.These are explored in Act Two. The setting of the woods brings forth unexplored personal strengths and weaknesses, tragedy and wisdom. The ending moral of the story is to be careful what you wish for, the means used to reach your goals, and the importance of exploring inner realms of which you may not be aware. The Witch’s final moral to be “Careful of the things you say, “Children will Listen.”

Time and space make it impossible to heap due praises on every deserving cast and crew member. Yana Madrid is in a class of her own as the Witch. Her singing and speaking voice, cackle, acting and movement make for the most believable witch I have ever encountered on stage. Complete with face mask, her costume, with spindly fingers, a leaf-covered coat, and well-worn hat and boots, also deserves special recognition. As the curse is broken, she is unveiled as a bombshell in a killer red dress.

Another favorite is Ben Topa as the Baker. His singing and acting are multidimensional and he effectively shifts his voice and demeanor to match changing emotions. His wife, Sophie Thurschwell, matches him note for note. Their duet, “It Takes Two” is inspiring. Little Red Riding Hood, played by freshman Joey Schulman, is full of spunk and possesses an alto voice that lends color to her character. Both Sarah Robinson, as Rapunzel and Paris McMillan, have voices straight from soprano heaven. Eva Schulman, as Cinderella, is a strong presence throughout. Alex Caroll-Cabanes has perfect pitch as the innocent, often bumbling Jack of beanstalk fame.

Comic relief comes in the form of the Princes, with Zac Nachbar-Seckel as Cinderella’s suitor and Tristen Huber as Rapunzel’s Prince. Both characters portray brothers clearly full of themselves and their antics are met with wild applause and cat-calls from the audience. Michael Bayliss, the Wolf, has a larger than life stage presence.

The 15-member community orchestra, conducted by Matt Jewell, supported the action without being a distraction, and played Sondheim’s amiable score so beautifuly.Their contribution was so natural and integral to the performance

Ken Roos and Cathy Sledz’s set design was amazing.The full stage set provides a perfect backdrop for vignettes about Cinderella, the baker and his wife, and Jack and his mother. Once the houses are removed, the woods are both menacing and full of surprises.

Little Red Riding Hood (Joey Schulman) and Cinderella (Eva Schulman). Photo courtesy of Woodrow Wilson High School.
Little Red Riding Hood (Joey Schulman) and Cinderella (Eva Schulman). Photo courtesy of Woodrow Wilson High School.

Director Harriet Bronstein and the entire Into the Woods community have, once again, shown that Woodrow Wilson High School’s productions should never be considered just another high school performance. Keep and eye out for Wilson’s spring performances.

Running Time: Three hours with one 15-minute intermission.

The final performance for Into the Woods at Woodrow Wilson High School is tonight at 7:30 PM – 3950 Chesapeake Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets can be purchased at the door.

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