BAR HARBOR — At a Saturday rehearsal, 14-year-old Alexander Shepard, with a curly pompadour, worked on some new moves that Director Frank Bachman had just added to the big finale number of the Mount Desert Island High School production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” which opens Nov. 10 on the Higgins-Demas stage.
This young man is continuing a family tradition. Twenty-five years ago, his mother, when she was a fresh-faced 14-year-old answering to the name Danielle Jones, performed in the first MDIHS production of this haunting musical when it was directed by Dan Mills.
Bachman said “Into the Woods” is one of his favorite Broadway shows. But he also chose it for this year as a nod to its historical relevance to the high school, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
“We’ve been reviving some of the school’s early shows, and it’s great to see another generation performing in them,” Bachman said.
He also must have known that he had the seasoned, dedicated group he needed for a show that has about a dozen lead characters and a complicated, almost operatic score.
The cast includes some experienced stage performers such as Emily Horner (Cinderella) and dance captain Ashley Graves (Wicked Stepmother) as well as a good group of underclassmen. Many of the latter appear to be hitting the ground running in high school drama, perhaps thanks to early theatrical training in elementary school show choirs or other groups.
Acknowledging that other high schools and show choirs have put on this show in recent years, not to mention a star-studded movie, Bachman said he is confident that this production will have its own “stamp” on it that will make it different and unique.
“In fact, we’ve gone back to the original script and added characters that weren’t even in the Broadway show,” he said.
“Into the Woods” is a fairy tale — a whole bookful of fairy tales, really — with Cinderella and her Prince Charming, Rapunzel and her prince, Red Riding Hood, a wolf, a witch, a beanstalk, a giant and more.
But in this version, we go beyond the “happily ever after” and learn the possible consequences of having our dreams come true.
Rumor has it that Sondheim and his team were inspired by “The Uses of Enchantment,” a dense, scholarly, Freudian analysis of these popular fairy tales by Bruno Bettelheim, published in 1976.
At rehearsal Saturday, Bachman and choreographer Tammy Willis were adding yet more moves to the already action-packed finale. “No, no, that isn’t going work,” he called out frowning at one attempt, and then his face brightened as another idea came. “I know, invite the audience. Beckon them into the woods.”
This did work, and after a few run-throughs, the cast seemed to have it down pat, and they moved on to a moment when the Baker’s Wife (Carolyn Graber) sings a song of encouragement to her husband (Emerson Jeffery). The song is so lovely and sweet that anyone who doesn’t take them up on that invitation to “go into the woods” with them will miss out on something very special.
Also very special are Marilee Marchese’s costumes, which she was busy working on backstage for a photo shoot. A convincing wolf loped out of the room to make way for a prince with outsized gold epaulettes and bedazzled buttons. Marchese’s costume designs are always fun, but in a show that demands she unleash her creative imagination, this collection should be pretty darned spectacular. And, judging by that wolf, it may even be a little fairy tale scary.
Performances of “Into the Woods” will be held at 7 p.m. on Nov. 10, 17 and 18. Matinees are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Nov. 11, 12 and 18. Tickets cost $10 for adults, $7 for students and seniors and $5 for children six and under.