It was like old home week, walking into the lively rehearsal of Into the Woods at Boise State's Stage II, and seeing familiar faces from Starlight Mountain Theatre in Garden Valley; Stage Coach Theatre of Boise; and CAN-ACT, Encore Theatre and Music Theatre of Idaho, all of Nampa.
The BSU Theatre Arts Department is preparing Into the Woods for a three performance run, starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 11 and 12, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday at the Morrison Center. Thanks to Director Richard Klautsch, I was privy to one of the last practice sessions before the show moves into the big theater. Klautsch is the chairman of the department and a principal actor with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival come summertime. He also has appeared in Boise Contemporary Theater productions. The show will feature a 19-member orchestra composed of the "crème de la crème" of students in the music department. Professor Laura Rushing-Raynes is the music director and Christopher Raynes will conduct the orchestra.
Klautsch stated that his biggest challenge with this production is doing justice to the difficult music of Stephen Sondheim. "It ranges from beautifully haunting to funny-goofy, and back to poignant," he said. The show takes place in the forest of make-believe, where famous fairy tale characters do their thing. In the first act, Cinderella and Rapunzel marry their princes; the Baker and his Wife (Angela Tracy) fulfill the witch's demands and get their baby; Little Red Riding Hood survives the Wolf's attack; and Jack (Matt Thayer) prospers from his beanstalk climb. But in Act II, the story line darkens as we see what happens after "happily ever after." The characters face one challenge after another, and one by one, they pay for past mistakes.
While the cast members are all students, many of them already have impressive resumes of acting roles around the valley. BSU junior Robert Shoquist appeared in Dante at BSU, Encore Theatre's Christmas Caroling, and many MTI productions, including Into the Woods. Shoquist, now a BSU junior, again plays the Baker, and I observed a more mature and complex character developing despite his still apparent youth and even stronger singing voice.
Lovely Megan Tucker, who created a feisty Calamity Jane for the outdoor Starlight Theatre, is delightful as an insecure Cinderella. Liberty Leeds, favorite actress of Stage Coach Theatre audiences, minces haughtily about as Cinderella's mean stepmother.
Even without the theatrical magic of lighting, sound effects and sets, the rehearsal performances were impressive. Especially the Witch, portrayed by Erin Haight, swirling about the stage in her ragged cloak and grotesque mask singing the heartbreaking "Children Won't Listen." Alex Fuhriman is slick as the Wolf who educates Little Red Riding Hood, and is dashingly hilarious as Cinderella's Prince along with his "brother" Rapunzel's Prince, played by Robert Longstroth. Little Red Riding Hood, a.k.a. Maria Sermonia, elicits numerous laughs as she bounces merrily through the woods. Doug Hoggatt as the Narrator/ Mysterious Man, moves in and out of the stories and Jena Carpenter's soaring voice as Rapunzel is amazing-especially since she is a high school student at Bishop Kelly.
According to Assistant Director Sara M. Bruner, who has performed with Shakespeare Festival for eight seasons, the creative costumes should be the icing on this cake of talent, with the majority constructed at BSU. Into the Woods may feature the skills of students, but even in a bare-bones rehearsal, the high level of professionalism was evident. You won't regret heading into these magical woods.
Into the Woods
By Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Richard Klautsch
March 11-12 at 7:30 p.m., March 13 at 2 p.m.
Tickets at Select-a-Seat.
$16 general, $12 non-BSU students, alumni & seniors, Free for BSU students, faculty & staff