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Fairy tale fun: 'Into the Woods' unites characters from many stories

Sheree Cipicchio is about to have her foot cut
Sheree Cipicchio, seated, as Florinda, is about to have her foot cut by Theresa Apple, holding a knife, as Cinderella's stepmother. Bianca Hamp, left, as Lucinda, and Jim Carter, as Cinderella's father, grimace. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Actors and actresses listen to the witch
From left, Theresa McGuirk, as Cinderella, Todd Apple, as Jack, and Audrey Mattaino, as Little Red Riding Hood, listen to the witch. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Arrianna Nichols Loose sings
Arrianna Nichols Loose, as the baker's wife, sings before being killed in the woods. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Maria Santucci sings
Maria Santucci, as the witch, sings. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

By Ben Orcutt -- borcutt@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- As the weather turns colder and the days grow shorter, Winchester Little Theatre's upcoming production of Stephen Sondheim's hit Broadway musical "Into the Woods" appears to be a surefire pick-me-up.

"We haven't done a musical in five years, and it's very dear to my heart, has a real message [and] incorporates a lot of storybook characters," says director Sara Gomez. "But it's not a children's play and there's a real message for adults. The music is typical Sondheim. It's deliciously creative. It's very difficult."

The two-act play boasts 18 actors, and the production will include a pit orchestra, Gomez says. Sondheim won a 1987 Tony for best score for "Into the Woods," and James Lapine captured one as well for the best book, according to the Web site, www.sondheim.com.

The production "blends various familiar fairy tales with an original story of a childless baker and his wife, who catalyze the action of the story by attempting to reverse a curse on their family in order to have a child," the site says.

Gomez, 54, says "Into the Woods" is special for her "because there's a real message for parents and how they talk to their kids -- and be careful what you say because children will listen."

Gomez says some of the characters will be familiar.

"The baker and his wife are prominent characters," she says. "Little Red Riding Hood is in here with the wolf and her granny. Rapunzel is in the play, and a witch, who is another prominent part. It's a nice ensemble. We have Cinderella's stepsisters and her stepmother and her father, and Cinderella's real mother, who sings to her from afar."

Gomez says Sondheim's music always presents a challenge, but she is confident her cast is equal to the task.

"Our cast is amazing," Gomez says. "We have a small, intimate theater, which I think it lends itself beautifully to this kind of a show. We don't have all the bells and whistles that Broadway does, but I don't believe it's necessary."

Like the cast and crew, Gomez is excited about the curtain going up on Nov. 6.

"This is what I do," she says. "This is what I studied in college. The Little Theatre has become very special to me, so I love the fact that I'm doing one of my favorite musical [shows]."

Arrianna Nichols Loose, 28, of Winchester, plays the baker's wife.

"This is the first opportunity I've had to sing on stage and it's scary and exciting, and I'm grateful for the opportunity," Loose says. "It's similar to roles that I've played in the past, but there's never been singing before. This is really my first musical."

Theresa McGuirk, 25, of Front Royal, is eager to perform as Cinderella.

"Well, she's a princess," McGuirk says. "I mean, every girl wants to be a princess. But she's a little bit more quirky than the Disney version, which is very appealing. She has the troubles of any normal girl that just so happens to get caught up with a prince."

McGuirk says everyone associated with the play is anticipating its opening.

"It'll be nice to get an audience in here and show everyone all our hard work and how much fun that we're having," McGuirk says during a recent rehearsal. "Theater has lots of energy. Musicals especially have a lot of energy, but I mean, when you have a large cast, it just makes it that much more energetic. We all have a great time and everyone's here because they love the show, and it's a very challenging musical because Sondheim is very challenging. But we're just having fun with it and you can see, everyone's kind of just grown together as a big family, and so that's fun."

Todd Apple, 43, of Winchester, is enjoying his role as Jack, from the fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk."

"I've directed the show before," Apple says, "so it was kind of funny when I actually got the role. I thought, 'There's no way.' But then doing it, it's a lot of fun, the fact that I'm playing somebody so much younger than myself. But it's a good role."

Apple says the songs in the play are good and the major characters "have good tales to tell."

"Sondheim doesn't do anything lightly," Apple adds. "[Everything] has a very deep, underlying meaning. And that's what makes it so entertaining, is that it's more than just Grimm's Fairy Tales."

Apple says "Into the Woods" reminds him of "Jack and the Beanstalk."

"It plays that way until the end of Act 1 and then the minute you hit Act 2, it all just kind of goes to hell in a handbasket," he says.

Jeff Schwartz, 52, of Winchester, plays the baker.

"This show is very difficult, but it's been a lot of fun to work on," Schwartz says. "It's one that makes you think. It's very allegorical, so it's full of message, whether it's hidden or [Sondheim's] browbeating you with it."

Schwartz says the most difficult aspect of his role is trying to master Sondheim's lyrics.

"He's somebody who would make Gilbert and Sullivan proud," Schwartz says of the famous songwriting duo. "There are a lot of words and none of his verses are the same. There's no such thing as a chorus for him. The difficulty just presents a challenge. It's fun working through it and it's a wonderful cast, so it's just been a pleasure working with all of these people. It makes it very much a team effort, so it's very good that way."

Maria Santucci, 39, of Winchester, is the witch -- a role that is new for her.

"It's fun to be evil and just to go against what everyone's niceness is," Santucci says. "She's a character."

The cast has created a synergy that should be apparent on stage, she says.

"They all really like the show and they all really like each other," Santucci says. "We all get along really well and we all have a really good sense of humor about the fact that we're all just really trying to do our best. So I think that the lightheartedness of it will come across."

One of her favorite parts of the musical is when Rapunzel's prince and Cinderella's prince sing, she says.

"They meet in the woods and they sing about their love, and it's just incredibly overdramatic and it's great," she says.

Marian Cerwensky, 55, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., who is in charge of costumes, says her role in the production also has been fun.

"Well, it's in a fantasy and so you get to play a little outside the rules," she says. "It doesn't have to be one set time period. You can pull something in from another time period and kind of get away with it. I think they're pretty flamboyant, [especially] the princes' and the Cinderella costume."

At 17, James Wood High School senior Audrey Mattaino is the youngest cast member. She plays Little Red Riding Hood.

"Well, what I like about Little Red Riding Hood is that she's very innocent," Mattaino says. "She's the contrast character to all the other characters. She's very lively, vibrant and brings back the innocence and the little innocent voice of reason to the play, which is sometimes very funny."

Cerwensky says when all of the pieces of "Into the Woods," come together, Winchester Little Theatre patrons should be pleased.

"It's always magical what they can do in that little space, because when you come in, every time it's different," she says.

Winchester Little Theatre is located at 315 W. Boscawen St. Performances for "Into the Woods" are scheduled on Nov. 6-8, 12-15 and 19-21, with matinees on Nov. 14 and 21. For tickets and more information, call 662-3331 or visit www.wltonline.org.


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