BY LORI LEMOINE
SPECIAL TO THE BEACON
From Friday, Sept. 9, through Sunday, Sept. 25, Shoestring Theatre in Lake Helen opens its season with a boom crunch as Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods takes the stage. It’s a musical that’s been lived and loved again and again since it opened in 1987, and many describe it as the holder of the elusive and oft-debated title of “Greatest American Musical.” And with a book by James Lapine, and three Tony Awards, it’s certainly nothing to laugh — er, cackle — at.
We all know our favorite fairy tales like the back of our hands. However, although this musical spawned a live-action film adaptation backed by a certain Mouse, these are not those stories.
Like them, the Narrator (played by PJ Rossi) starts us off with wishes. A childless Baker (Ayo Demps) and his wife (Tiffany Demps) wish for a baby. The stunted Jack (Wren Alexander) wishes his cow would give milk, while his long-suffering mother (Joanne Van Zyl) questions his intelligence.
Little Red (Brianna Gutierrez) wants bread to take to Granny’s house in the woods (although she’ll probably eat it before arriving). And Cinderella (Kirsten Kiwior Taylor) simply wants to go to the King’s festival.
The pivot point is our story’s first antagonist, the infamous Witch, played here with a great depth of complexity by Tori Rathbun in her return to the Shoestring stage. The Baker’s father stole the Witch’s own mother’s magic beans from their garden. As payment, she demanded both the fertility of the Baker’s family line — and the Baker’s older sister, starry-eyed ad nauseam soprano Rapunzel (Kristina Manning Cawthon, also doubling as the voice of Cinderella’s Mother, who is a spirit, in a tree).
The Witch loves Rapunzel so much she locks her in a hidden tower, because you know, parents. And now, to break the Baker’s curse, she sends him … into the woods (ha!) in search of four important items.
The main story is assisted by a strong corps of players: April Siciliano pulls double duty as Granny and the Giant. Shoestring darling Joshua Freeman is Cinderella’s Prince (and the Wolf) — ironically playing the older brother of his former teacher Ross Cawthon as Rapunzel’s Prince.
Central Florida theater vet Caleb Roberts serves everyone doggedly as the Steward. Cinderella’s vile stepparent (Chelsea Greer) and stepsisters (Matilda Marquez and Maya Swain) wander blindly behind.
And somewhere in the woods, the Mysterious Man (Matt Williams) lurks, weirdly kind of looking like both the Baker and Rapunzel.
Directed by Anne Sollien with assistance by Assistant Director Ayo Demps, music directed by Justin J. Scarlat and Tiffany Demps, and stage managed by Lori Lemoine, this show is, as per usual, a Shoestring family affair. So come with us into the woods, then out of the woods, and home before dark!
Reserve seats at shoestringtheatre.net or by calling the box office at 386- 228-3777. Tickets cost $22 for adults, $20 for senior citizens, and $15 for student tickets (which are only sold through the box office).
Shoestring Theatre is at 380 S. Goodwin St. in Lake Helen.