Take a walk 'Into the Woods'

Central Drama leads audiences through fantastical Broadway classic

Last year Hinsdale Central's drama and music departments were deliberating over which musical to put on in spring of 2024.

Like a stroke of inspiration from a fairy godmother, drama teacher Erin Lundin landed on the Stephen Sondheim-scored "Into the Woods."

"We have perfect kids to do this show this year, and it just sort of gelled immediately. We knew right away it was the right (production) for this year," Lundin related.

The mash-up of famous Brothers Grimm stories will be staged at 7 p.m. tomorrow and at 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday in Central's auditorium. 5500 S. Grant St.

Among the familiar characters depicted are those from Rapunzel, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood, Lundin said. And, of course, a witch. They venture into the woods in pursuit of their happily-ever-after dreams. But then the production takes a turn.

"In the second part of the show, the characters face the consequences of the wishes that they got in the first half. Reality hits in act two, and we find the darker side of the fairy tales," Lundin said.

Music teacher Jennifer Burkemper was tasked with guiding students through the difficult, tongue-twisting Sondheim compositions.

"This is probably the second-most intensive in terms of vocal score because it's almost all song," said Burkemper, ranking it just below "Les Miserable."

But she said the richly imagined show provides good experience in the various dimensions of the theater.

"It was the right combination for everybody involved: it fit the kids that we had, it fit our instrumentalist program really well," she said.

Lundin agreed, noting the number of substantial parts in the 24-member cast for those in their final year as Red Devils.

"We have a lot of seniors who we wanted to give that lead opportunity to. This gave a lot more kids the chance to have a starring role," she said. "I don't think we've had this many kids involved in a musical since probably pre-COVID, which is what we want."

Senior Max Zhu's assignment does not require speaking but plenty of physical activity as he serves as puppeteer for the white cow that belongs to Jack of beanstalk fame.

"I had to get used to carrying it on my back," Zhu said, acknowledging his preference for a part free of singing and dancing. "I control the face, so I try to match my expression to the feeling that the cow would be having."

Senior Grace McGowan plays the Baker's Wife. McGowan actually portrayed Cinderella in BAMtheatre's presentation of the musical last year and so came well-versed in the production.

"I was really excited to dig into a new character," she said of the Baker's Wife.

"I really like how the musical takes fairytale characters, who are usually portrayed either as all good or very bad, and bring them to the middle. Nobody is a good person, but nobody is a bad person, either," she said. "I think finding that happy medium to explain them as actual people is fascinating."

She cited one scene when Jack and Little Red Riding Hood are talking on stage.

"It's cool to see these characters meet in the fairytale world," she said.

McGowan credits the drama program for growing her confidence and expanding her leadership aptitude through assistant director opportunities.

"It's helped me build my independence in creating characters and performing," she said.

Lundin revealed that "Into the Woods" has been on her wish list for some time.

"It's one I've wanted to do since I was about 12 years old," she said. "I'm excited to see it finally come to life."

Tickets are $15 for general admission and $10 for students. Visit http://www.hinsdaledrama.com/tickets.html.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean