The drama students of St. Thomas More Academy are stepping away from the usual high school musical this weekend with a dark morality tale that examines what "happily ever after" really means to both enchanted fairytale characters and mere mortals.
"Into the Woods," a musical by award-winning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim ("Sweeney Todd," "West Side Story" and "Gypsy") follows a cast of characters who will be immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with a few classic fairy tales.
The play opens with a childless baker and his wife, who, looking for a permanent reprieve from a witch's curse, are forced to set out on a twisted scavenger hunt, looking for four items: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold. Along the way, the couple meets the familiar faces of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack (of that oh-so-infamous beanstalk) and obtain the needed items by any means they deemed necessary at the time. And, by the end of act one, it still seems like all will end in the traditional sense: The bakers get their child, Cinderella gets the prince, Jack is rich, and Little Red Riding Hood outsmarts the wolf.
Things get interesting in act two, though. Drama instructor and play director Lorraine Steinhoff, who likes to present the class and audiences with a variety of theater styles, said that she expects the audience to be pleasantly surprised with the intellectual subject matter.
"It's not easy-going like 'The Sound of Music' that we did in the spring," Steinhoff said. "It's a musical that's going to ask you to think."
But, ultimately, Steinhoff said that good theater should make the audience think, maybe even make them a little uncomfortable.
Senior Remy Binder, who plays the "evil witch" added that the second act will definitely get people thinking as they learn "what happens after happily ever after."
"Everybody gets what they want, not necessarily what they need," Binder said.
Another senior, Olivia Boddicker, who is bringing Cinderella to life, said the play takes a dark turn as the consequences of desire are played out.
"It's dark. Four characters will die, making it sort-of jarring," Boddicker said. "I'm hoping that the audience is a little older, not because it's gruesome in any way, but because the story is complicated and the characters have so much depth."
Binder then added that the audience will see that each character, including the witch, has a unique backstory, that offers insight into the driving forces of their decisions.
Page 2 of 2 - "Many characters have to come to grips with the idea that even after you get your wish, you may realize it's not what you really needed," Binder said.
The play is not all doom and gloom, though. Sprinked throughout both acts are moments of comedic relief and music that goes well beyond the typical musical production.
"The music is not traditional. It's more modern, more like what you would hear off the stage," Steinhoff said. "And, there are great little one-liners to offset some of the darker moments. But, isn't that what life is? You find humor in moments that would otherwise be unbearable."
Unlike Boddicker, Steinhoff thinks the play needn't be limited to just an older audience because there's something for everyone, from young children to parents to teens.
"Hopefully, the audience will leave the play discussing what they've just seen," Steinhoff said. "After all, even though it's about fairytale characters, it's really about you and me because the whole story mirrors life: changes, choices, growth, love and loss. It's all there."
Audiences can see "Into the Woods" this weekend at the Schwartz Center for the Arts, 226 S. State St., Dover. There will be two shows: 7 p.m., Friday and 2 p.m., Saturday. Tickets are general admission and can be purchased for $10. For more information, visit www.schwartzcenter.com.