Getting deep 'Into the Woods'

Created on Thursday, 02 October 2014 01:00 | Written by Shannon O. Wells

Director, performer excited to bring Sondheim's fairy-tale musical to Beaverton stage Friday

When it came time to cast Beaverton Civic Theatre's production of "Into the Woods," director Josh Pounders was confronted by an envious problem: An overabundance of talent in the Beaverton community.

"We were overwhelmed and delighted to have more than 100 individuals audition for this production, a Beaverton Civic Theatre record," he noted. "It was an exciting and enjoyable process, yet also made for very difficult decisions. The talents of some of the performers we were not able to cast was tremendous, which means the cast we did end up with is a real powerhouse."

Conceived by legendary theater composer Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, "Into the Woods" brings together beloved Brothers Grimm characters as a grand musical tribute/send-up of the fairy tale genre starting Friday in the Beaverton City Library Auditorium, 12375 S.W. Fifth Street. The shows run on Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 18, starting at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Oct. 12, at 2 p.m.

Cinderella and her family appear in the story of 'Into the Woods.' From left, Erin Zelazny stars as stepsister Lucinda, Barbara Berger plays the stepmother, Woody Woodbury is Cinderellas father, Brandee Leibrand is Florinda and Essie Bertain (seated) portrays Cinderella.

For those unfamiliar with "Into the Woods" or who don't make it out for theater too often, Pounders, a 1996 Aloha High School graduate, said this is a near-guaranteed night of enjoyment.

"'Into the Woods' is a Broadway classic," he said. "It's also made up of fairy tales that everyone is familiar with, braiding them together with hilarity and poignancy. Every audience member will find a familiar character with whom they can relate and a twist in the story that will seem plucked from the very pages of their own life."

Beth Noelle, who serves as the play's assistant musical director alongside Josh Pounders, plays the witch in a story that follows a series of wishes: A baker and his wife who wish to have a child; Cinderella, who wishes to attend the King's Festival; and Jack, who wishes his cow would give milk. When the couple learn they can't have a child because of the witch's curse, the two set off on a journey to break the curse. Everyone's wish is granted, but the consequences of their actions later return to haunt them.

Noelle debuted with the Civic Theatre in 2012 with her portrayal of feisty Lucy Van Pelt in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," finds "Into the Woods" a classic deconstruction of fairy tale myths and a sharply drawn parable of common human folly.

"In the whole first act you get all the basic fairy tale stuff," says Noelle, a 1985 Sunset High School graduate. "These characters all want something. In having something, they think they'll be great. Act 2 is the unraveling of the mythology of 'I wish,' that you must be careful what you wish for, and it often comes at a price. It's fabulous how it all falls (apart)."

Noelle, whose 17-year-old daughter Olivia is also part of the cast, hopes to bring a depth to her witch character that goes beyond the mean-lady-in-a-black-hat stereotype.

"She's the truth teller who holds people accountable," Noelle says. "She can be scary, and should be scary. I've seen other people play the part, and it's not about having a pretty voice. She's definitely troubled, and I'm not afraid of portraying that. I won't shrink from that responsibility."

Pounders, who first worked with Noelle in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," will testify to her soulful dedication.

"She's a phenomenal singer, pianist and actress," he said. "She also has a true connection to the role of The Witch — a central character in the show. Beth is always willing to dig deep into the motivation and emotions of her character and will engage every detail necessary to make sure every movement, line and note resonates with the audience. She's also one of the best pianists I know."

Pounders, who performed the role of the Baker as a student at Ouachita Baptist University in Southern Arkansas, admitted he has a soft spot for "Into the Woods."

"I have been familiar with 'Into the Woods' for 20 years," he said. "I deeply admire and respect Stephen Sondheim's work and believe (Woods) is one of his greatest pieces."

The powers that be in the Disney entertainment empire, which is releasing "Into the Woods" as a feature film in December, apparently agree.

"It's been much talked about throughout the theater community and will certainly prove to be wonderful, though rather different than Sondheim's original piece," Pounders said. "I'd encourage anyone who has never seen the musical to see a fully staged live version before watching the movie."

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