Elise Brancheau felt insecure when she engaged in fierce competition auditioning against music theater majors for Westminster Choir College (WCC)’s production of Into the Woods, which premieres tonight in the WCC Playhouse.
It was a complete surprise when the sophomore vocal performance major learned she had secured the lead role of Rapunzel.
“In high school, I sang a lot of operas and loved performing on stage,” Brancheau said. “It feels wonderful to perform again. It’s a fantasy play, but the things that are happening to the characters are so real.”
Directed by Rick Joyce and musically arranged by Cris Frisco, Into the Woods is a farcical adaptation of several childhood fairy tales — Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Baker’s Wife and Rapunzel — whose conflicts intertwine.
Although the cast has only been rehearsing for six weeks, the show is “coming together brilliantly,” according to sophomore Nick Hardin, who plays Jack.
“The talent in this ensemble is unparalleled,” he said. “Other than the brilliant portrayal of this glorious score, the cast’s comedic timing and dramatic intent are what makes the show.”
Senior Liz Flemming, who plays the wicked witch, was very excited about the production because it was based more on acting than singing.
“Rider usually emphasizes the acting,” Flemming said. “So it was exciting to have that aspect of theater on the Westminster campus.”
Senior Madison James plays the role of the Baker’s Wife, who, with her husband, must gather four components of a magic potion to break a spell that made the Baker impotent.
“She’s really good at heart,” James said. “But [she’s] a little conniving and sneaky in going after what she wants.”
Hardin described his character as being a not-so-smart, impressionable boy who comes from an impoverished life to find the kingdom of the Giants.
“He has some sort of invincibility to him until he reaches the epiphany that sometimes getting what you wish might mean losing something that’s even more important to you,” he said.
The actors focused not only on fulfilling the roles of their characters but also on the vocal arrangements and music of the show.
“Stephen Sondheim’s music is, by nature, very complex and confusing,” James said. “We’re all lucky here to have great musicianship training.”
Brancheau also ran into difficulty mastering the complex songs. In one particular number, each actor sings one line right after another, meaning the timing of the song has to be perfect, she said.
“One of the biggest challenges for me has been putting together songs involving a number of other actors,” she said. “It was quite challenging in getting it to flow.”
Junior Ryan Crimmins, who plays the Baker, has wanted to play that role since he saw the show for the first time in middle school. Although the music is complicated, it’s central to the show, he said.
“The great thing about Sondheim’s music is that his lyrics tell the story just as much as any page of plain text would,” he said. “Every word is crucial to the plot and the character.”
For instance, Flemming’s character transforms from old and ugly into young and beautiful. As her character transforms, her character’s voice transforms as well.
“It’s difficult to do my character’s voice in the beginning and put that same voice into song,” she said. “It gets easier toward the end. By then, my voice is more natural and the types of songs I sing are more of a ballad.”
Joyce and Frisco have been working with the cast through rehearsals, which began at three hours a day for four or five days a week and stemmed to four-hour practices seven days a week. Although it’s a strenuous schedule, Hardin said it was “a joy” to work with the cast and crew.
“We work with such professionalism,” Hardin said. “It’s amazing how some of the cast members have overcome obstacles, both with each other and with the incredible scenic design. I can’t wait to put this amazing piece of art on the stage.”
Into the Woods will be performed tonight and tomorrow night at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 4, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.