Fairy tales on stage

SMSU, Marshall High students performing together in the musical ‘Into the Woods’

Photo by Cindy Votruba Kurtis Parlin, Danny McDonnell and Danny Smith rehearse a scene from the upcoming production of “Into the Woods,” which opens today at the Schwan Community Center for the Performing Arts.

MARSHALL — Partnering up for the second time in two years, the Southwest Minnesota State University Theater and Marshall High School Tiger Theatre are thrilled to be presenting six performances of the fairy tale musical, “Into the Woods.”

Performances begin today, with the final one scheduled for April 29.

“The show has been coming together really well,” said stage manager Sariah Cheadle, a sophomore at SMSU. “Our production team is great, and it’s amazing to see all the aspects of the show — the costumes, the set and of course, the actors — come together in one place up on stage. This production is so full of energy. Every moment of the show is compelling in a variety of ways and the actors are doing a wonderful job conveying the message of the show.”

The music and lyrics are by Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim. Director Dan Smith said Sondheim brings together five fairy tales in the musical.

“Four of them are the well-known Grimm fairy tales of ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Jack and the Beanstalk,’ ‘Rapunzel’ and ‘Cinderella,'” Smith said. “The fifth is an invented tale of a baker and his wife who desperately want to have a child but learn that his family has been cursed by a witch who lives next door.”

Smith said the first act focuses on all of the characters pursuing their wishes in the woods.

“Their stories overlap in hilarious fashion,” he said. “The second act shifts to a much more serious tone as we see that there are serious ethical and moral problems with these characters pursuing and getting their wishes. Actions they take during the pursuit of their wishes have real and tragic impacts on other characters’ lives as multiple tragedies occur and the characters struggle to find answers to their questions of who is to blame for things that have gone wrong.”

Smith said the play concludes with three beautiful ballads.

MHS senior Jacob Greathouse is cast as the wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood” in addition to Cinderella’s Prince, a role which he is quite familiar with.

“‘Into the Woods’ has been my favorite show for a super long time,” Greathouse said. “It was the first show I ever did. I did ‘Into the Woods Jr.,’ which is just the first act of the show, when I was in seventh grade. I was Cinderella’s Prince then as well.”

Despite the similarities, Greathouse said it’s a much different feeling this time around.

“It’s different because we have the second act, and obviously, I’m more mature than I was back then,” he said. “I hope my acting and singing has improved since seventh grade, too.”

While he performs two songs in the second act as the prince, Greathouse appreciates that he gets to sing “Agony” in the first act again — five years after he did the first time.

“It’s this hilarious song because it’s between Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel’s Prince,” Greathouse said. “They’re both written as brothers and they’re lamenting over Cinderella and Rapunzel because Cinderella keeps running away and Rapunzel’s obviously locked up in a tower with no doors or stairs. It’s just this huge archetypal thing.”

Illana Peter, a Tyler native and choral and instrumental music education major at SMSU, is cast as Cinderella. Rapunzel is portrayed by Allie Lamote, a MHS junior. Rapunzel’s Prince is played by Thomas Knudson, a Walnut Grove native and senior theater arts major at SMSU.

“Even though the play focuses on fairy tale characters, it is absolutely a play that adults will enjoy,” Smith said. “Many of its themes focus on challenges that parents face every day and anyone who has children will connect with many of the songs in the show. Children will enjoy the play, but it is definitely not exclusively a children’s show.”

Greathouse believes people will get a kick out of the scene where, as the wolf, he dresses up in Granny’s nightgown.

“It’s one of my favorite parts,” he said. “I get to wear this bonnet where my wolf ears stick out of it.”

While he’s required to wear a zoot suit and chest hair, Greathouse said staying loose and having fun is one of the biggest challenges for him.

“I sing kind of a creepy song — ‘Hello, Little Girl’ — so it’s a challenge to just kind of be loose,” Greathouse said. “He tempts Little Red Riding Hood into straying off the path so he can to Granny’s house and eat Granny first.”

Meredith Bock, a MHS sophomore, is cast as Little Red Riding Hood. Paul Ragan, a Fosston native and SMSU history secondary education major, is cast as the Baker, while Morgan Benson, a Tracy native and SMSU theater arts major portrays the Baker’s Wife.

“I enjoy being able to play a character who struggles with such real and honest problems but in the midst of a fairy tale,” Benson said. “My biggest challenge has been learning the music and lines. Sondheim is a brilliant lyricist and one of the challenges for the whole cast has been capturing the words and putting them into ideas.”

Benson also serves as the productions’s publicity manager.

“I take headshots and put together actor bios and various publicity around school, such as window paint and posters,” she said. “The hardest part with that is balancing those responsibilities with school work and acting in the school itself.”

As stage manager, Cheadle can attest to the art of juggling responsibilities.

“The biggest challenge for me as the stage manager is keeping track of everything,” Cheadle said. “One of my main jobs is to be the center of all communication between the director, costume designer, etc. and the actors. During the performance, I am in charge of all music, lighting, and set cues, so I have to keep track of those as well.”

Two years ago, SMSU and MHS produced “Spamalot” together. Smith called it a great educational experience for students on both sides of the street. It also opened up opportunities for all of the students, he said.

“A number of years ago, Sheila Tabaka and I began discussing the possibility of the departments working together on a show as a way of making really big shows with large casts and heavy technical and costume needs more possible to be produced in Marshall,” Smith said. “We also thought that it would be an excellent way to give students an opportunity to work on a touring production and work with a more complete production staff.”

Benson said she’s enjoyed having the opportunity to work with new people.

“I enjoy it, especially when it’s people I normally would not have the chance to work with,” she said. “And even though we are performing at two different venues, everyone has been willing to work with each other in both spaces.”

Smith said he’s loved “Into the Woods” since he first worked on it in 1993. The collaborative effort provided the perfect opportunity for him to direct a show he’s passionate about.

“It was also a great opportunity to work with so many colleagues who have become close friends,” Smith said. “We have a wonderful working relationship among the production staff and throughout the cast, so the many hours of rehearsal have not seemed long or tedious. We’re all tired, but we genuinely enjoy working together, so rehearsals are a lot of fun.”

Smith said a cast of 20 people — all involved in a variety of other activities outside of theater — did create scheduling challenges, though. Trying to perform on two different stages has also been tricky, he said.

“Fortunately, we’ve been able to be very flexible while still maintaining very high expectations for our cast and crew,” Smith said. “Touring the show is also a big challenge. Even though we don’t have to travel far, the theaters are very different spaces, so all of our designing and staging has to be executed with a high degree of flexibility to perform in both theaters.”

Cheadle added that the collaboration has been a great opportunity for community members, SMSU students and MHS students to work together.

“Each group brings in something different to the production and adds up to something that you don’t often get to experience,” she said.

Ragan said the camaraderie both on- and off-stage has been exceptional, resulting in a high-quality show.

“I wish people could see where we started and how far we’ve come,” Ragan said. “It’s incredible the progress we’ve made and what we’ve achieved. This show is far from easy and each actor has put in a ton of effort. We’ve put together an amazing show. I’m excited for opening night.”

• April 20, 21, 22 at 7:30 p.m. inside the Schwan Community Center for the Performing Arts April 27 at 7:30 p.m. inside the SMSU Fine Arts Theatre

• April 28 at 2 p.m. inside the SMSU Fine Arts Theatre (Dinner prior to performance)

• April 29 at 4 p.m. inside the SMSU Fine Arts Theatre

Tickets are $10 and are available at www.SMSUtickets.com or at the door for each performance.