'Into the Woods Jr.' a G-rated pleasure at Laurel Mill Playhouse

Laurel Leader

Having excised the adult themes of Stephen Sondheim's and James Lapine's popular musical and Disney fantasy film, "Into The Woods," the G-rated Junioradaptation that opened at Laurel Mill Playhouse, Aug. 4, drives the cute odometer through the roof.

Enacted by kids ages 8–18, the playhouse's production is the culmination of its summer Musical Theater Intensive program. Since mid-June, almost 30 budding thespians have been rehearsing under the direction of Laurel resident Michael Hartsfield and returning Playhouse musical director Mimi McGinniss.

Produced here by Maureen Rogers, of Laurel, the hour-long musical features beloved characters from the Grimm Brothers' "Cinderella," "Jack in the Beanstalk," "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Rapunzel" fairy tales performing some of the musical numbers that appear in the original 1987 Tony award-winning Broadway show.

But "Into the Woods Jr." wraps up before the story turns dark and risqué in Act 2 of the full version.

Visually, the playhouse set and lighting designed by Hartsfield accentuates the childlike virtue of the modified version. As do the slightly goofy, ever-so-fun fairytale costumes overseen by Lynn Keller and whimsical sound effects designed by the show's directors.

Comments like "Perhaps it will take two of us to have this child" (Mary Kilgallon as Baker) wax even more amusing in such an innocent context.

In the main plot, a childless baker and his wife who've been cursed by a witch — the story begins in the "Rapunzel" fable — embark on a quest "into the woods" in search of four magical objects: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold. The pair must deliver these offerings to the witch before "the chime of midnight in three days' time" in exchange for lifting the curse of their infertility.

From the moment the fairytale characters join Narrator Mikki Farias in the Prologue, the youngsters — who Hartsfield said during the preshow "worked very hard" on the show — perform Sondheim's rich music and lyrics with boundless energy in concert with members of the ensemble (some will perform shared roles later in the run) appearing as graceful trees in pretty stage compositions.

The youngest performer, Tabitha Dickson, 8, was absolutely adorable crawling about as Milky-White (Jack's cow) in her costume on opening night. Colleen Dunne will enact Milky-White Aug. 13–20.

The eldest actor, Emily Bruun, 18, Cinderella's mother, is a regular at the little theater and shows her experience in a smooth stage presence. As do Paige Miller as Cinderella, Brooke Miller as the witch, Mary Kilgallon as the baker, Loraine Hamlett as the baker's wife, Carly Pometto, Little Red Riding Hood and Rachel Kilgallon, the Wolf.

Other members of the cast, who also deliver fine performances are: Jalen Thomas as Cinderella's stepmother; Tori Simmons as Cinderella's father; Audra Dew, Aug. 4–12 and Josephine Coward, Aug. 13–20 (Florinda); Tiana Bell, Aug. 4–12 and Moriah Franklin-McGruder, Aug. 13–20 (Lucinda); and Anthony Alessandrini as Cinderella's prince.

Also performing are Maxwell Coward as Jack; Jaci Molina as Jack's mother; Sabrina Swing, Aug. 4–12 and Hope Moorman, Aug. 13–20 as Granny; Kayla Tucker, Aug. 4–12 and Yvonna Smack, Aug. 13–20 as Mysterious Man; Valerie Swing, Aug. 4–12 and Carly Levender, Aug. 13–20 as Rapunzel; Gareth Swing, Aug. 4–12 and Isabella Dodro, Aug. 13–20 as Rapunzel's prince; and Delaney McGinniss as steward.

One of many standout moments occurs when Pometto, as Little Red Riding Hood, and Swing, as Granny, escape from the wolf's (Kilgallon's) stomach in a smile-catching bit of staging.

And the Part 6 musical number featuring the Narrator and Ensemble's finale is a sweet wrap to the entwined twisting of classical fairy tales that travels to a happy ending for all.

Listening to the clear voices of youth raised in song is always a pleasure. Sharing the simple joy exuded by this cast as the youth claim their spot in the lights of the Playhouse's current production of "Into the Woods Jr." offers a sentimental foray into childhood fantasy designed to delight their families, friends and anyone who's young at heart.

"Into the Woods Jr." continues weekends through Aug. 20, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays, Aug. 13 and 20, at 2 p.m., at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St. Tickets are $22. Students ages 16-18, active duty military and seniors 65 and over pay $17. Buy tickets online at laurelmillplayhouse.org.

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