Readers count on fairy tales to show wishes coming true. Black Box Players’ 25th season has granted a big wish to the troupe’s founder — the opportunity to direct a musical that’s close to her heart.
The theater group’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” continues at 7 tonight and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Burnley-Moran Elementary School. About 25 local adults, teens and children will be taking the stage.
“It’s a huge undertaking, no doubt about it, but it is absolutely worth it,” said MaryAnne Thornton, director of Black Box Players. “I feel it’s the best show that’s ever been written.”
Thornton has directed each of Black Box’s productions since the troupe started in 1986, but “Into the Woods” has a special place in her heart. There’s noticeable joy in her voice when she speaks about the quality of the show’s music, the way the different stories are woven together and the way it can mesmerize and audience.
Two of her four children are in the cast. “My husband’s backstage, and my son-in-law — and my 7-year-old granddaughter is playing a bird,” she said.
Black Box productions often bring in multiple members from active families. When Black Box presented “Annie,” the entire Stoll family was involved, Thornton said.
In keeping with Black Box tradition, there are two casts, giving more people a chance to participate by sharing roles. Thornton said that sharing a part has another benefit — it can lighten the load for children and families who want a chance to perform but already have crowded activity schedules.
“I’m a firm believer that kids and adults need to be well rounded,” said Thornton, who said her own children enjoyed making new friends and learned a great deal while balancing sports and schoolwork with their Black Box performances.
Even if cast members don’t go on to pursue acting in college or careers, they benefit from “just the confidence they have to go up in front of people,” Thornton said. “It helps in whatever you’re going into.”
The “Into the Woods” cast includes Tom Wallace as Narrator, John Oprandy as Baker, Marty Moore as Baker’s Wife, Cate Wells and Abbey Shelton as Little Red, Blair Doby as Granny and Giant, Meghan Wallace as Act 1 Witch, Kate Adamson as Act 2 Witch, Tres Wells as Mysterious Man, Andrew Thornton as Jack, Jackie Baylink as Jack’s Mother and Allie Pompeo and Izzi Moore-Stoll as Milky White.
Whitney Thornton Gatesman plays Cinderella, with Sandy Schwaner and Cecily Scheinfeld playing Stepmother, Tara Skeen and Abbie Hanson as Florinda, Samantha Maupin and Summer Larese as Lucinda, J. Stoll as Cinderella’s Father and Randy Clark as Cinderella’s Prince. Marc Hengartner plays Steward and Wolf and Olivia Gallmeyer and Kayla Hearl play the Page.
Dana Pye portrays Rapunzel, and Ben Nalle plays her Prince. Melissa Keirnan and Veronica Moore-Stoll play Snow White. Natalie Gatesman and Erin Wallace play the Birds. The ensemble includes Denice Mowry, Elijah Nalle, Sally Pickell, Nathan Weathers, Kieran Corbalis and Ryan Weathers.
The hen gets a credit, too; she’s played by Marshmallow Baylink.
“Into the Woods” made its debut the year Black Box was founded, and Thornton’s not the only fan who sees the show every chance she gets. The show, with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by James Lapine, follows the characters and stories of Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood past the “happily ever after” mark.
Even though Sondheim’s music is challenging to performers, it’s not inaccessible. The show is layered with clever references to familiar stories, and families can feel comfortable bringing children.
Thornton said that she saw some very young children enjoying last weekend’s performances, and that Rapunzel’s tower, the singing and dancing cow and the live hen were among the attention-grabbing elements for the youngsters.
The morals of the fairy tales made the leap to the stage, which also pumps up the family-friendliness quotient, Thornton said.
“The messages are great,” Thornton said. “It’s called a masterpiece, and it really is, for sure.”