After happily ever after 

Cinderella captures a prince, Jack kills a giant and Rapunzel gets rescued from a tower -- and they all live happily ever after.

It would be wonderful to have every wish come true, to have every thing the heart desires, the way it happens in fairy tales. Or would it?

The theme of what happens when characters must live with the AFTER of happily ever after is at the heart of the musical, Into the Woods.

Written by James Lapine with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods follows familiar fairy tale characters as they set about achieving their dreams.

Act I follows some of the most familiar stories, with the addition of an original story about the Baker and his Wife, who are trying to reverse a curse that keeps them childless.

But the musical takes a decidedly different turn in Act II, when the characters have to deal with the problems their actions have created. Sure, Jack has killed the giant, but what does he do with the dead giant that now lies in his back yard?

The characters come to realize that all actions have consequences, which in their case has resulted in a serious threat to their community. Do they resolve the threat and live -- well, you know? You’ll have to watch it to find out, because we aren’t telling.

Into the Woods is being presented Aug. 4, 5, and 6 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 7 at 2 p.m.and 8 p.m. at the Armstrong Atlantic State University Fine Arts Auditorium. Presented by the Little Theatre, Inc. of Savannah, the musical is being directed by Bob R. Patterson, with musical direction by Joseph Walker.

“I’m a huge Sondheim fan,” says Patterson. “I have been since forever.”

This is the third time Into the Woods has been produced in Savannah. “When City Lights did it the first time, I was the artistic director of this company when it was on Bull Street,” Patterson says. “I desperately tried to find someone else to direct our musical so I could audition for Into the Woods.”

Patterson was living elsewhere when the second production was under way, but the third time was the charm. “I think this is the first time it has been done in Savannah in such a large venue,” he says.

“In a smaller venue, you can pare it down and still have a great show,” Patterson says. “At Armstrong, you’ve got to do it up. That stage is huge.”

Until recently, the cast was rehearsing at the Jewish Educational Alliance. Patterson says his cast can handle the move to Armstrong, although there will be some adjustments.

“The first time they see the set, it will look 30 feet tall, even though it’s just 4 feet,” he says. “The places they used to get to in three steps will now be 15 feet away. But once they get started and are used to it, it will give them all an extra frissant.”

The cast includes hardy veterans of community theater and beginning performers. “One of the things I love about this show is the cast,” Patterson says.

“They have a wide range of experience,” he says. “To me, that’s what community theater should be about. I could not ask for a better bunch of people.”

Before the auditions, Patterson wasn’t certain he would be able to find enough talented performers. “It is an enormously challenging show for both the actors and the tech people,” he says.

But his worries were unfounded. “We had over 60 people audition in two nights,” Patterson says. “At the end of the first night, we had possibilities for all the roles. At the end of the second night, we decided there would be no need for call-backs.”

Walker is “a great musical director,” Patterson says.

“He has been able to completely change the way some people were approaching their roles,” Patterson says.

Some of the costumes were rented from the original Broadway production of Into the Woods. “I’m an Internet junkie,” Patterson says. “I tracked down where a lot of this stuff ended up.”

Faith Boles plays the Witch, and says Sondheim’s music is particularly challenging. “I love how the music is difficult, yet it sends out a strong message about life itself,” she says. “It is clever how Sondheim put together life lessons within the songs.”

Boles is a native of Savannah who is a rising junior at the Shennandoah Conservatory of Music, where she is studying musical theater.

“I was the child who always dressed up in her mother’s clothing,” Boles says. “I had dress-up clothes she made for me. I listened to music all the time.”

The production of Into the Woods promises to be a memorable one. “It’s coming together very well,” Boles says.

“This is a very talented group of singers and actors,” she says. “There is such a positive energy when we come together. Everyone is positive about everyone else. Everyone is behind you.”

It takes a lot of makeup, including a fake chin and a fake nose to transform Boles. “The Witch is a pretty crazy character,” she says.

“She is very bitter about being old and ugly,” Boles says. “She has a lot of self-esteem issues. I compare her to Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest.”

Robert Bush, an attorney by day, portrays the Baker. “I think it’s a wonderful play,” he says. “It works on an amazing level.”

Bush was in an earlier production of Into the Woods that was produced by City LIghts Theatre in Savannah. In that production, he played Jack.

“I always loved the idea of playing the Baker,” Bush says. “The music is wonderful, but complex and challenging. The cast is great.”

Bush is one of more experienced cast members. “I’ve been doing theater since September 1989 when I first came here,” he says.

“One of the beautiful things about doing community theater is the mix of people,” Bush says. “Some are kids, but are so talented, while some have spent a lot of time doing community theater. I’ve met people I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.”

The Baker faces a lot of hardships in the musical. “The Baker is not a very effectual person,” Bush says. “Throughout the play as he goes on his journey in the forest, he becomes more self-possessed, more self reliant.”

Fans of musical theater should definitely see Into the Woods, Bush says. “It’s a wonderfully intriguing take on an entertaining play,” he says.

“The cast is great,” Bush says. “We have wonderful melodies and plenty of humor. And it’s meaningful, too.”

Amanda Hosmer plays Cinderella. “I’ve always loved this show,” she says. “This is a role I’ve always wanted to play. Anything by Sondheim is good, but challenging, a real work-out.”

Don’t expect this Cinderella to be like any other Cinderella you might have encountered. “She is different,” Hosmer says. “She is kind of complicated.”

Hosmer earned an undergraduate degree in musical theater and currently is a graduate student in the Savannah College of Art and Design department of media and performing arts.

“I’m getting my master’s degree because I’m planning to teach at some point,” Hosmer says. “But I definitely want to work as a performer first.”

Stefanie Selai plays the Baker’s Wife. “She’s probably in her 30s or 40s, which has been challenging to play, because I’m 19,” she says. “I’m trying very hard to find some common ground with her. At first, it was overwhelming, but it’s been getting easier.

“I’m so glad to get this part,” Selai says. “It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed it.”

Selai played a stepsister in the second version of Into the Woods that was produced in Savannah.

“When I heard they were doing it again, I thought, ‘Why not?’” she says. “I was lucky to get one of the leading roles.”

Currently a sophomore at SCAD, Selai plans to move to New York City at some point. “I do plan to pursue an acting career,” she says.

“Theater has been my life ever since I was little,” Selai says. “I started doing plays at age 6 and was always watching musicals.”

Most recently, Selai was Marty, one of the Pink Ladies, in Grease. She also has performed in Annie, in West Side Story as Maria and in The Wizard of Oz as Dorothy.

“I’ve had a couple of good years recently,” Selai says. “I’ve had a great time. It’s good to work with people I know and also to see fresh new faces.”

Nick Bushkar plays Jack. He most recently starred as “Danny” in Grease.

“Into the Woods
is a lot different than Grease,” Bushkar says. “It’s so much fun to do. It’s intelligent.”

Not that his character will win any IQ contests. “Jack is not the brightest kid on the block,” Bushkar says.

“He has a cow that he thinks is male. He doesn’t know that bulls don’t give milk. But he believes in being happy and wants everyone to be happy.”

Bushkar has been singing since the age of 7 and has done four major productions over the past year. “It’s really interesting to be in a show like this with such a large ensemble cast,” he says.

“This is what I want to do,” Bushkar says. “I plan on moving to New York to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

“I want to act,” he says. “My main goal is Broadway. I love singing and acting.”

Jewelia Noble plays Little Red Riding Hood. “She is a lot different than the storybook one,” Noble says.

“She’s a lot more adventurous. Nothing much scares her, so she’s more intriguing.”

Noble is a rising senior at the Savannah Arts Academy, where she was a drama major before switching to a vocal major. “I am looking at musical theater conservatories (to attend after graduation),” she says.

As a child, Noble was shy. “It’s different when I’m on stage,” she says. “This has been a lot of fun. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people and also a lot of people I’ve been working with forever.”

Others in the cast include Ray Ellis as the Narrator and Mysterious Man, Tess Hill as Jack’s Mother, Katherine Racz as Rapunzel, Mark Rand as Cinderella’s Prince and Mark Dusek as the Wolf and Rapunzel’s Prince.

Playing supporting roles are Lori Nesbitt, Josie Streiff, Adrienne Fraser, Bill Cooper, Amanda Phillips, Greg Martin, Leslie Yates and Sara Troficanto.

The musical features 21 songs, including Into the Woods, No One Is Alone and Hello, Little Girl.

The original production of Into the Woods opened on Broadway on Nov. 5, 1987. It went on to win three Tony Awards, five Drama Desk Awards and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical.

“The woods is a kind of metaphor for the choices one makes in life,” Patterson says. “Basically, we use the frame of the story to examine the journeys that are fairly universal -- the transition from childhood to adult, marriage, parenthood and death.

“It is a funny show, a touching show, a show with wonderful music,” Patterson says. “If you know Sondheim and love Sondheim, you’ve got to be there.”

Little Theatre, Inc. of Savannah will present the musical Into the Woods on Aug. 4, 5 and 6 at 8 p.m. and Aug.7 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Armstrong Atlantic State University Fine Arts Auditorium, 11935 Abercorn St. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students and seniors and $10 for children under 6. Seating is general admission. For information and reservations, call 355-8111, Ext. 225, Monday through Friday between noon and 5 p.m.

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Linda Sickler

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