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WHS presents “Into the Woods” March 1-4

Catalina Nguyen (from left) portrays Cinderella's stepmother, Matthew Bartley plays her father, Jamie Newman is Cinderella and Davis Moore is a prince in the Worthington High School production of "Into the Woods." (Ryan McGaughey/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — A cast of 29 Worthington High School (WHS) students, plus over a dozen more tech, set and pit band members, will venture “Into the Woods” at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center (MAPAC) next Thursday through Sunday.

Under the direction of Eric E. Parrish, the energetic group of high schoolers has spent the last two months learning and honing the intricacies of Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning musical. “Into the Woods” spins the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk into an entertaining mix that results in a series of morals and life lessons open to each viewer’s personal interpretation.

“People will enjoy the show because it brings everyone’s favorite fairy tales together in one fun, song-filled musical,” endorsed sophomore Ashlyn Greve, who was tapped to portray Little Red Riding Hood in her WHS musical debut.

“Into the Woods” is the third consecutive musical Parrish has directed at WHS, and he had good reasons for choosing it.

“It’s one of my top five all-time favorite musicals, for one,” explained Parrish. “And I felt last year’s ‘South Pacific’ primed us for something this difficult because we have the student talent to pull it off.

“Sondheim is probably the greatest living musical theater composer, next to Lin-Manuel Miranda, and his harmonies function in a horizontal rather than vertical way so it requires the actors to have very good sight-reading and rhythm skills.”

“Into the Woods,” which made the jump from its theatrical roots to a critically and financially successful 2014 Disney movie starring the likes of Meryl Streep, James Corden and Emily Blunt, focuses on the Baker (WHS senior Max Langerud) and the Baker’s Wife (junior Sarah Spieker) and their desire to have a child.

However, their neighbor the Witch (junior Anna Meyer) long ago cursed the Baker’s family and the only cure for the lonely couple’s barren state is to deliver four disparate objects to her before three midnights pass.

Interwoven are the fates and elusive wishes of Rapunzel (senior Tien Truong), Jack (senior Smile Bu), Cinderella (senior Jamie Newman) and Little Red (Greve). Junior Sam Martin menaces as the Big Bad Wolf, and comic relief is also delivered via the self-centered princes (junior Davis Moore and sophomore Michael Schnieder) and Cinderella’s imbibing father

(sophomore Matthew Bartley).

“This cast is all-star,” heralded Parrish. “They’ve worked hard, memorized their parts, done the necessary preparation and have been willing to try different things on stage.

“The Baker and Baker’s Wife are underrated roles because they provide so much of the story line but don’t get the dramatic and famous tunes like Cinderella and the Witch.”

Parrish commends his entire cast, which extends to off-stage parts like the Giant (sophomore Katie O’Donnell), a team of four hard-working horses (senior Pokwar Taw, juniors Alex Bauman and Tad Stewart and sophomore Jacob Mills) and the intrepid cow Milky White, portrayed untiringly by senior Jackson Bonnett.

“Being the cow has brought out the animal in me,” quipped Bonnett, a chorus veteran of the past three years’ musicals.

“I would say the cow has a humorous personality.”

For Parrish, the journey from auditions to performances has been rewarding as he’s watched students grow and take dramatic risks. For instance, junior Chris Lee as the Mysterious Man was asked to roll rapidly twice down a steeply inclined set piece.

Also, Parrish appreciates having both returning students and newcomers involved.

“It’s really fun that several students have been past chorus members now have an opportunity for leading roles or speaking parts in this, and some are altogether new to the WHS musical process,” said Parrish.

Seniors Smile Bu and Catalina Nguyen (portraying Cinderella’s mother) are among the returning musical students who will be more visible in this production.

“I love watching musicals and had always wanted to do something in theater,” said Nguyen, who was an island assistant to Bloody Mary in last year’s “South Pacific.”

For Nguyen, who says she always tries to be pleasant to others in real life, morphing into a harsh stepmother was indeed a stretch.

“It was hard in the beginning,” she smiled. “Mr. Parrish kept telling me to be sassier, meaner and angrier, but it took a lot of effort to be severe and assertive to people like Max and Jamie because they’re so nice.

“I always smile at Jamie [Cinderella] before we go on stage because I don’t want to be mean to her.”

Bu, as the simple gold-chasing, giant-crashing Jack, has relished his role as the beanstalk climber.

“I get to be childish, and that’s really fun,” said Bu. In “South Pacific,” he was a servant to Emile DeBecque.

“’Into the Woods’ has been a great experience for me and I really like it,” Bu continued. “I get to do a fair amount of singing, and that feels great because I don’t get a lot of chance outside of choir to exercise my vocal skills.”

Bu intends to attend St. Cloud State University next year, hoping to major in music education and music performance, so his enthusiasm for the production comes naturally.

“This is a strange and exciting show, and it brings together a lot of different musical styles,” Bu said. “Overall, the message is that you can have what you want but sometimes you might regret it so you have to take the consequences, and for Jack, he learns he’s not alone and needs to rely on others to fix big problems.”

As director, Parrish has also relied on others to mount the ambitious production, including costume mistress Roxanne Hayenga, MAPAC tech expert Mark Brodin, MAPAC managing director Tammy Makram, lighting designer Erin Belpedio, set painting consultant Sara Nadenicek, several behind-the- scenes parents, senior student assistants Brianna Newman and

Dominic Burns, vocal coach Kerry Johnson and pit band conductor Zac Paulsen, among others.

“It’s been a delightful experience,” said Parrish, mentioning that the set pieces themselves hold hidden meaning as story books coming to life and inspiring the audience’s collective imagination.

“I love the theatricality and music involved,” contributed Nguyen. “People should come for the costumes, characters and music.

“I love it when everything comes together.”

Kindle drawing for “Into the Woods” attendees

The Nobles County Library encourages community members to see “Into the Woods” from March 1-4, and then to bring in a coupon (inserted with the show’s program) to enter a drawing for a brand new Kindle Fire HD 10.

To qualify for the drawing, participants must hold or apply for a Nobles County Library card.

The Friends of the Nobles County Library, plus library staff members, contributed to the purchase of the Kindle for the drawing in a joint effort to promote reading, library use and cultural activities such as theater. Approximate retail value of the Kindle is $150.

For more information about the drawing, see the “Into the Woods” program insert next week or call the Nobles County Library at 295-5340. The Nobles County Library is located at 407 12th St., Worthington.

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