On January 23 and 24, 2014 students from the ATMTC Academy at Adventire Theatre MTC performed Into the Woods JR, a child-friendly adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine classic musical, directed by James Gardiner and with musical direction by Bill Yanesh. These performances followed the troupe’s return from the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, where their performance won three awards, including “Outstanding Musical Performance!”
Owing to such a large cast, Set Designer Court Watson left the stage simple and spacious, with only a multi-leveled wooden dock for the young actors to utilize. The backdrop was hung with ragged layers of cloth smeared with woodsy tones. Lighting Designer Jason Arnold used dappled lighting and earthy hues to create a natural ambiance, and I especially enjoyed the use of shadow work as a creative and imaginative way to unfold a challenging rescue scene. Sound Designer Neil McFadden rounded out the atmosphere with effects such as chirping crickets and hooting owls.
Costume Designer Brittany Graham had over twenty cast members to dress (a tall order!), so her focus was how to enhance regular clothing with accessories that compliment the characters. This included a fur vest and hunters cap worn by the wolf, a simple red hoodie worn by Little Red Riding Hood, or the cliquish outfits of Cinderella’s stepsisters, who looked like they just walked off the set of Mean Girls.
The Baker (Trevor Band) and his Wife (Cassie Cope) have been cursed with a childless life by their neighbor, The Witch (Nia Smith). She promises to lift the curse if the couple is able to retrieve specific objects that the Witch needs for a potion: a white cow, a red cape, some yellow hair, and a golden shoe. If these objects sound familiar, it’s because they are– these objects are focal points in our favorite fairy tales (Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Cinderella). Scared but determined, the desperate pair travel into the woods, where these classic stories intertwine in interesting and imaginative ways. Narrator Isabella Brody follows the characters along their journey, scribbling notes in her journal as the stories connect. Adventurous plot-twists throw numerous challenges towards the Baker and his Wife… will they be able to collect the treasures before their time is up?
The cast is made up of young actors, and while they still have years to strengthen and explore their craft, I could see some real talent brewing in the ensemble (and the kids seemed to have a whole lot of fun onstage, which is the most important thing).
My favorites songs were the unifying “It Takes Two,” sung by the Baker and his Wife, and the melodramatic “Agony,” where two princes (Greg Kenny as Cinderella’s Prince and Eli Schulam as Rapunzel’s Prince) bond over their girl trouble. Emma Sophie Moore (Cinderella) shows off a beautiful singing voice in the number “On The Steps of the Palace” and Little Red Riding Hood (Mia Goodman) and The Wolf (Michael Mattocks) sing a mischievous duet in “Hello, Little Girl.” Although the musical numbers were nicely done, I liked the written dialogue even more, which was filled with quippy one-liners and playful sarcasm.
Although the entire cast was exceptional, my favorites were Kevin Grieco, who served as a sort of puppeteer for his role as Milky White, a suitcase-sized cow molded from plastic. He didn’t ‘udder’ a single word, but still managed to receive tons of laughs while manipulating the large prop. Michael Mattocks did a fine job with his role The Wolf, and Henry Niepoetter was sweetly naive as Jack.
The ATMTC Academy’s production of Into the Woods JR was a real treat! Enjoy your success, students…you’ve earned it!
Running Time: One hour, without an intermission.
Into the Woods, Jr. was presented on January 23-24, 2015 by The ATMTC Academy performing at Adventure Theatre, MTC – 7300 MacArthur Boulevard – in Glen Echo, MD. For information on future Adventure Theatre MTC shows, visit their website.