Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” is much more than a musically fantastical fairy tale. It’s the paths we take in our lives, into the woods, wandering, losing ourselves and those we love, struggling in the dark, stumbling, falling, scraped and scratched by scary trees, fighting giants and, perhaps, seeing the light ahead and emerging from the forest stronger for the journey.
It’s also one of the most musically, rhythmically and dramatically difficult American musical theater pieces of our time, but the students at Booker High School did it, and they did it with professionalism and an almost unbelievable amount of vocal and theatrical talent.
“Careful the things you say, children will listen,” says Sondheim.
These Booker students, under the direction of Scott Keys with music director and conductor Johnnie Mnich, have listened and learned, for “Into the Woods” teaches us, through fractured fairytales, what life is and what, if you have the imagination and ethical grit, it can be.
In Ken Wiegers’ brilliant stage set of pillars, giant books used as stepping stones, a movable, raked turntable that takes us deeper and deeper into the woods and flying clouds that look like wheat Chex, this cast of fairytale characters teaches us parables and lessons as Cinderella meets her Prince Charming, Rapunzel lets down her hair, Jack trades his beloved cow for a giant of a beanstalk and a witch, a wolf and others we know all too well enter the woods and spin into the wrong story, sometimes dying, sometimes living to tell the tale and grow stronger, wiser and, perhaps, a little sadder.
Booker’s enormous cast is an incredibly cohesive ensemble, as good as we may find in professional Equity theaters. Of the two-dozen different characters, there were some standouts but, in naming them, we don’t deflect attention from all the others. The two princes, Zach Herman and Sam Garvin, were charming and lecherous in their “Agony” duets. Ellie McCaw’s Cinderella was beautiful in spirit and voice, growing into a wise young woman before our enchanted eyes. Rachel Henry, as Little Red Riding Hood, had the right mix of innocence and insouciance with a Kristin Chenoweth-like voice; Brian Finnerty’s Baker was brilliantly sung and acted; Becca Leap, as his wife, was disarmingly charming; and Matt Robertson’s Jack was exuberant. Madeleline Kaus, as the witch who loses her power and presence to become human, cast a vocal and emotional spell that could lift her, magically, onto a Broadway stage.
The next time you see that Booker High is producing a show, go! It’s the best investment you’ll make in a city filled with culture.
Currently 2 Responses
- On behalf of the Booker High School, I want express my appreciation to you for writing a wonderful music review of ‘Into the Woods’ at Booker High School.
As the new principal of Booker High School, I am challenged with the lack of community awareness and support of our awesome Visual Performance Arts Program. In my opinion, our Visual Performing Arts Program is one of the best kept secrets in Sarasota. In addition to our wonderful theatre program, we have outstanding music, dance, art and TV/Film programs, too.
I’d like to invite you to attend the Award Winning Booker High School Vocal Jazz Ensemble ‘Death by Chocolate’, February 3rd, 7:30 pm and Saturday, February 4th 7:00 pm and 8:45 pm. Admission: $10.00 (includes Chocolate and Coffee). Call 355-2967 Ext. 65032 for tickets.
Thank you for sharing and spreading the word about out Booker High School Visual Performing Arts program.
With Appreciation and Gratitude,
Dr. Rachel Shelley
- I agree! Too many theatre-goes in this community skip (or don't know about) the Booker plays. Into the Woods was merely the latest example of the incredible talent -- both students and faculty -- just down the street from downtown Sarasota. The amazing thing about Into the Woods was the quantity, as well as the quality, of the talented actors and singers...enough to fill the stage...and not a weak link among them. Thank you for a wonderful and well deserving review. drv
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