Children are a blessing if you know where they are. Nothing’s so distressing though as when they keep you guessing so— be sure to get your ticket, and travel very far…all the way out to The Gaithersburg Arts Barn to see the first show of Kensington Arts Theatre’s “KAT SECOND STAGE” season— Into the Woods Jr. Directed by Fred Zirm with Musical Direction by Arielle Bayer, this abridged Sondheim production, which exclusively features the first half of the original full-length musical (minus a few racy and raunchy bits to make it appropriate for younger audiences— though it should be clear that the foot-maiming of Cinderella’s Step Sisters is still an active part of the performance), is a brave and unique opportunity for talented young performers to take their first taste of Stephen Sondheim’s intensive musical theatre world.
With a full stage tastefully Constructed by Bob Oetting, and costumes that are appropriate for the fairytale world, pieced together along with makeup and props by Sandy Eggleston and Jennifery Morrissey Dallasta, each of the young performers involved in the production has the chance to experience a fully developed musical theatre production. With just about two dozen youth performers, the production is an adventure and a journey well worth investing in, if for nothing else to experience the truly exuberant spirit that these talented youngsters put forth when it comes to the challenging task of tackling Sondheim.
For those familiar with the plot of Into The Woods, the narrator comes to mind when the notion of advancing the plot comes into play. For this production of Into The Woods Jr., Director Fred Zirm puts three talented young ladies— Natasha Chisaka, Clara Harney, and Giorgia Dallasta— to work sharing the role. At times they even speak as one voice, telling the tale of all that unfolds as various storybook characters dare to venture into the woods. Dressed in varying degrees of “stage manager blacks” they become the guiding force of the production. Chisaka, Harney, and Dallasta also appear throughout the production guised as “The Other Cow” a “Random Princess” and “The Hen” (the one that Jack steals from the beanstalk, responsible for laying the golden egg?) These additional characters add humor to the narrator track, and give these three performers some extra stage time.
Bella Vedaa dons the paint as white as milk and takes on the role of Milky White, providing great comic relief, especially once she’s seized from Jack (Abigail Aronne) and placed into the custody of the Baker’s Wife (Katie Williams.) All three ladies give delightful performances, especially Aronne, who gets the featured solo “There Are Giants in the Sky” and Williams, who gets to sing a fine duet— “It Takes Two”— with the Baker (Lee Schwetje.) Schwetje and Williams work together to find all the comic nuances of the strained relationship of the Baker and Baker’s Wife, which is no easy task, especially for young performers.
The fair of face and vile of heart Step-Family features Ava Silberman as the nasty Stepmother, with Maren Lewis and Lucy Garretso as Florinda and Lucinda, the nasty Stepsisters. The family also includes Zoe Fischthal as the briefly appearing Cinderella’s Father. Maren Lewis doubles up as Cinderella’s Mother, who is only seen from within the confines of the enchanted sorrow/death tree. When Cinderella’s magic gown arrives— at certain performances— it is cheekily delivered by Ethan Fontek, dressed in an UPS costume. Cinderella herself is played by Katelynn Diuguid and the young actress does an exceptional job with “On the Steps of the Palace.”
Other characters encountered throughout the woods include Jack’s Mother, played with sage and a sharp tongue by Hana O’Looney, Granny— who briefly appears after the wolf-gutting scene and is played by Fiona Feinold— and the Wolf, played by Coley Ferragut. And then there’s Little Red Ridinghood, played by the precocious Fiona Bradford, who really holds her own against Ferragut’s nasty wolf character. And while Little Red and all that follows her story and her cape as red as blood has some humor to it, there’s nothing more hysterical than the two princes leaping and bounding about through the woods— one of which is accompanied by the royal Steward (Nicole Weiner.) Cinderella’s Prince (John Lewis) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Hayden Polsky) are zany and humorous as they wail their woe through “Agony” and keep in hot pursuit of both Cinderella and Rapunzel (Lucy Garretson.)
Though appearing briefly, Isabella Artino makes for a great Mysterious Man, living up to the character’s namesake. This is particularly true when Artino is forced to encounter the Witch (Nora Suliman.) With surprising spirit and great gusto, Suliman does an exceptional job in this challenging leading role, carrying well the burden of the villainess square upon her shoulders.
Ultimately there is a great deal to experience and the opportunity being presented to these children is an extraordinary one. Remember, however, opportunity is not a lengthy visitor and although the slotted spoon may not catch much soup, it could potentially catch you a ticket to Into the Woods Jr. But why take a chance on cookware? Buy your ticket now before this opportunity vanishes into the woods!
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes with no intermission
Into The Woods Jr. plays through October 29, 2017 with KAT Second Stage on the mainstage of Arts on the Green at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn— 311 Kent Square Road in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets call the box office at (301) 258-6394 or purchase them online.