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What do you get when you cross Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Stephen Sondheim and New York City?  No, not a Halloween Costume Party in Chelsea.  What you get is an exciting and memorable production of Stephen Sondheim’s Musical Into the Woods at Benicia High School. 

Under the co-direction of Christine Mani and Kim Thompson, the Benicia High School Panther Productions went an entirely new direction with the twisted group of fairy tales that Sondheim and writing partner James Lapine smashed together in their late 80’s Broadway musical.  Rather than setting it in the ambiguous unnamed woods that the play is normally set, Mani and Thompson decided to set the entire show in New York City. 

What? You ask. I know… I had the same response. 

But you know what? This new spin brought out an entirely new group of characters and highlighted different themes in the show.  At times, I found myself thinking about the next scene and wondering what this production would do with it. 

In the director’s notes Mani states that she’d been waiting for years to produce this play because she knew how important that it was to get the right group of players.  And the right group of players she had.  Talent oozed from every direction in the show, in an impressive display of commitment and enthusiasm. 

This cast is anchored by two very strong performances by Isaiah Boyd (The Baker) and his onstage wife Ella Pennington (The Baker’s Wife) both of whom played their roles with a rare maturity and presence that is often times hard to find.  Boyd’s handsome and masculine Baker was particularly moving in his duet with his father, The Mysterious Man (Alejandro Medonza-Middleton), “No More”.  Pennington, on the other hand, carried her role with a kind of strength that I have not seen since the role was originated by Tony Award Winning Actress Joanna Gleason.  The onstage chemistry between these two fine, young actors was not only believable, but it was exciting. 

Thompson and Mani’s centerpiece to the concept rested in the hands of her Little Red Riding Hood (Kayla Santos) who had an onstage commitment that made her shine.  CJ Gormley’s Jack was a completely original take on the bright-eyed youngster and, comically, far dryer than is usual (it was a very witty performance… of a very dimwitted character).  The Narrator, which is normally played by a man, was played by Colleen McAdams. Interestingly, McAdams picked up a number of Little Red’s lines in the opening sequence, a device that the director used to ease the transition into the world of wonder in Little Red’s head.  

Rarely does an audience get to see a group of actor’s so committed to a performance and a director’s vision.  The enthusiasm and energy of the cast was infectious and led to an evening of very entertaining theatre. 

Matthew Teague Miller
National Youth Theatre

Performed April 23 - May 8, 2010

Photography by Christine & Aristotle Mani

~ Cast ~
Girl/Little Red Ridinghood: Kayla Santos
Girl’s Father: Alex Middleton
Narrator: Colleen McAdams
Cinderella: Tori McBride
Jack: C.J. Gormley
Jack’s Mother: Brandi Guisto
Baker: Isaiah Boyd
Baker’s Wife: Ella Pennington
Cinderella’s Stepmother: Alycia Brom
Florinda: Zoë Garfiinkel
Lucinda: Kyla Hamling
Cinderella’s Father: Kevin Throne
Witch: Gwenna McKee
Cinderella’s Mother: Ashley Wright
Mysterious Man: Alex Middleton
Wolf: Erik Quiroz
Granny: AshleyWright
Rapunzel: Emily Garcia
Rapunzel’s Prince: Nick Bustamante
Cinderella’s Prince: Austin Carr
Steward: Synjyn Council
Giant: Ashley Wright
Snow White (& understudy): Camille Roybal
Sleeping Beauty (& understudy): Rachel Morgado



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