Familiar fairytale characters like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Jack and his magic beanstalk will soon grace the Juneau-Douglas High School stage, but their tales will feature a twist: the consequences for these characters’ wishes being granted.
The Juneau-Douglas High School Theater Department, Juneau Lyric Opera and Alaska Youth Choir have collaborated to bring Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical “Into the Woods” to Juneau. In this tale, a baker and his wife discover they are unable to have children due to a curse from a witch who will only break it if they retrieve four ingredients for a potion: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.
“I think it’s going to be fun for the whole family. It’s one of those whole family-type musicals, but it is full of real fairytales that were from the Grimm Brothers, and so it’s not all happy endings. You see realistic things in the fairytales, just like in (how) the Grimm Brothers brought out. It’s not the Disney version of fairytales,” Director Michaela Moore said.
One of the reasons “Into the Woods” was selected is the relatability of its theme.
“The woods are a metaphor for the hard times in life and all the struggles we have to deal with every day as people. We all have to go into the woods and battle our own giants, our own witches,” she said. “It also seemed open for a bigger interpretation to have fun artistically with it and to really play with the set and the costumes and our interpretation of how we put it on. We didn’t have to be so traditional like we’ve been in the past with it. We could have artistic license to have fun.”
This “Into the Woods” deviates slightly from the original Broadway production. Instead of setting the story in the woods, it’ll take place in an abandoned theater overrun by nature. Moore wanted to go beyond the usual fairytale costumes too, combining “traditional garb with a hipster look” to keep present in audiences’ minds that any group of artists in any space can come together to create theater, she said.
This is the second time that JDHS is collaborating on a musical with JLO; the first was “Hairspray” in 2012-13. “…‘Hairspray’ was kind of a happy accident,” Moore said. “Hairspray” has many roles for teenagers, so the two entities decided to work together. Moore saw it as an opportunity to show her students that they could continue to perform in town after they’d graduated high school.
“JLO offers so much throughout the year for people to use their talents and to be artists,” she said. “It’s a great community program and I want the students to know what’s out there. I want the students to feel comfortable doing their program and auditioning for things that they do throughout the year if they graduate, because I have a lot of students who graduate and stay in town. The college here doesn’t have a big theater or music program, and I want them to know there’s something available for them so they can continue to grow.”
“Into the Woods” has a diverse range of characters, which will be played by both JLO and JDHS; younger characters are played by JDHS students, like Jack, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, while older characters like the baker and his wife are played by JLO members. The Alaska Youth Choir will sing and play woodland sprites. JLO and JDHS are splitting the other production efforts.
“The actors have developed a really wonderful comradery,” Moore said. “It has been so great to be a part of this. I think the kids have learned a lot from the adults, and the adults have gained a lot from the spirit of the teenagers, and it’s just, it doesn’t matter what age anyone is, it’s a collection of serious artists who have come together to make a great evening of entertainment for the community.”
“Into the Woods” will be performed at JDHS on Feb. 9, 10, 16, and 17 at 7 p.m. and then 2 p.m. on Feb. 11. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $10 for students and youth, ages four through high school (children three and younger are free); they may be purchased through Hearthside Books, the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, Juneauopera.org and at the door.
• Clara Miller is the Capital City Weekly staff writer.