Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 3:09 PM on Wednesday, March 21, 2012

'Into the Woods' presents fairytale mishmash without happily ever after ending


Photo by Michael Armstrong

The cast of "Into the Woods" performs the title song for the musical during rehearsals on Sunday.

At rehearsals Sunday for Homer High School's spring musical, Stephen Sondheim's "Into The Woods," the stage looked a bit more chaotic than usual.

No, that's not because students had the week before off for spring break and were getting back into their roles.

"It's always terrifying the week before the show," said musical director Mark Robinson.

While Homer High School musicals have become known for big casts of a size Robinson calls "criminally insane," that's not it, either.

The chaos lies in the plot, a mishmash of every fairytale the Brothers Grimm ever retold.

As Act 1 unfolded, Jack — yes, that Jack, of beanstalk fame — set forth to sell his pet cow, Milky White. Rapunzel called out from a balcony to let loose her flowing, golden hair. Cinderella prepared for her wedding under the watchful eyes of her ghostly mother. Little Red Riding Hood skipped off to Grandma's house, only to be waylaid by The Big Bad Wolf. Wait — that's another wolf. This is simply The Wolf.

Meanwhile, the Witch, all claws and cackles, explains Lifting of Curses 101 to the baker and his wife. It's simple: If they want to bear a child, they must bring her A Slipper As Pure As Gold, A Cow As White As Milk, A Cape as Red as Blood and Hair As Yellow As Corn. Hmm ... Now where could Mr. Baker find such items? And who would have them? Into the woods he goes.

That's the premise of "Into The Woods," playwright James Lapine's twist on classical fairy tales.

Robinson describes the setting as like a cul de sac, Fairytale Circle, maybe, where all these characters live, with the big, mysterious woods behind their homes.

"They all come into contact with each other in the woods, which is kind of a metaphor for life, going off into the world," he said. "All the convoluted fairy tales work out and everybody lives happily ever after — at the end of Act 1."

Many fairytales start out with the idea of going into the deep forest, said Lance Petersen, stage director.

"For something exciting to happen in your life, you have to go into the woods," he said.

That's a theme that teenagers should find appealing, they both noted.

"They're soon going to be heading out into the world," Robinson said. "Not all princes are charming. Some of them are wolves. There's more to life than meets the eye sometimes."

Unexpected and unexplainable things can happen in the woods, Petersen said.

"It's dangerous. It's exploratory. It's exciting," he said. "All of those things are what kids leave Homer and go to New York City and Seattle for — to find their own 'into the woods' experience. It isn't a forest. It's the unknown territory each of us has to explore."

Sondheim's "Into The Woods" fits three criteria Robinson and Petersen look for in a high school musical.

• The show has to be able to accommodate a big group, in this case, the high school concert choir. Choreographer Jill Berryman has crafted dance numbers that use that big cast like a Bollywood show stopper.

• No divas. The musical needs a lot of solos for a lot of talented singers, and not one or two big parts that dominate. With 25 singers from the Homer High School Concert Choir who went to all state, "Into The Woods" fits their needs.

• "We're looking for shows that have great music and a great or meaningful, or thought provoking, story line," Robinson said. "'Into The Woods' meets all the criteria."

Unlike more common Broadway musicals that have dialogue where the actors occasionally burst into song, "Into The Woods" uses a more operatic style, with dialogue sung in the recitative, or recitativo, style. For the Homer High School production, the directors keep the lyricism of the dialogue in between songs, but don't have the actors sing it.

This year's production lacks of lot of experienced seniors who have gone through a high school musical or two. Robinson said he usually expects sophomores to grow over a few years into leadership roles, but his younger students this year have impressed him.

"I have a lot of talented sophomores," he said. "A lot of talent and a lot of great attitude. It goes a long way."

This year, the musical accompaniment returns to the classic Broadway tradition: a pit orchestra. "Rent" and "Godspell" both used rock 'n' roll bands.

"My seniors have never had a full pit orchestra with an open pit," Robinson said. "That's exciting. That's fun for the kids."

While Act 1 might seem a bit too easy, Act 2 brings the dark side to the plot, sort of like George Lucas' "The Empire Strikes Back" to "Star Wars," when a seemingly happy ending takes an ominous turn. What happens after Cinderella gets her prince and the wolf is killed?

"In real life, nobody lives happily ever after," Petersen said. "The baker's wife becomes pregnant. Then they have the baby, and the baby is fuss and cries. It's not entirely happy. Cinderella finds her prince, marries him and she's bored."

"It's about life, the choices we make and what's really important in life," Robinson said. "Be careful what you wish for."

Particularly when you go into the woods.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael. armstrong@homernews.com.