(La Junta, CO) – The woods are full of charming and mysterious men as Picketwire Players produce “Into the Woods” this July and August. This Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical is based on the Grimm fairytales, with a modern twist. As in all fairytales, you have the princes – charmingly played by Joe Trainor and Scott Goheen. You may remember them from their match up in “Les Miserables” last summer when they tackled the roles of Jean Valjean and Marius.
The Woods are a different experience altogether. Scott tells us that the music in this show is harder than the music in “Les Miserables” and “’Les Miserables’ was no walk in the park.” But the princes and the rest of the cast are up to the task.
The two princes have a brotherly competition as they each seek a princess as their own. “It’s the grown up version of a fairy tale,” explains Joe. “The characters are fun, but sometimes over indulgent, so it leaves us chasing what we can’t have.” Joe said one of the life lessons from this play is to learn to be satisfied with what you already have or you will always be chasing a dream.
Scott said that not only does the play give life lessons, but the production of the play does as well. “It takes a tremendous amount of focus to be able to pull off a character that the audience will believe in. It takes more focus to put the whole play together. Attention to detail seems to be somewhat of a lost art today.”
The two princes have great fun and make the story fun for the audience. And it is the pull of Picketwire as a family that brings them both back to the stage. “The cast is full of teachers, students and friends,” explained Joe. “It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about Picketwire, it feels special because we are a family. In fact, it was one of the draws to bring my wife and me back to La Junta.” For Scott, his family is truly part of the cast because he is playing opposite of his wife, Desiree, who is Rapunzel. “It’s been great fun to have my wife as my romantic interest, but we have to play things a little more carefully because the witch is watching over our character’s every move.”
Jack – from Jack in the Beanstalk fame – is one of the other good boys although no one is completely good in their actions in this play. Jack is played by Levi Grimlund. He describes his character as a bit of a “slotted spoon”. “He has substance, but is a bit absent minded sometimes.” And Jack sets off a chain of actions that affect other people in the village. “This play is rather tongue in cheek. It’s quirky and funny. For example, my best friend is a cow – which is a major character in the play.” Levi says “Into the Woods” is a must see: “We have a beanstalk, giant trees, and a giant. The music is incredible. The set is amazing and the cast is more amazing. What more could you ask for in a musical.”
Another one of the good, but befuddled and frustrated boys is the baker, played wonderfully by John Eubank. The baker is forced to go into the woods and be heroic, which is hard for someone easily frightened. John explains his character further: “The baker wishes he had more control over his life. He undergoes more change throughout the play than any other character. He experiences some of the hardest truths and changes how he views things. His one constant is that he is a normal kind of guy. He just wants to have a normal life and a family.” John plays the character as someone who has his world view expanded, but still tries to distill it all to keep simplicity in his life.
Now we get to the bad boy – the wolf – played delightfully by Nelson Dunford. This is the first time that Nelson has been in a Picketwire play, but he is no stranger to the stage. He was a member of Jazz Voice, the number two ranked collegiate jazz choir. He also had roles in “Lil’ Abner”, “Once Upon a Mattress”, and “The Tempest”. He said his mother also makes him sing solos in church all the time.
Nelson learned about Picketwire when he and his wife were walking around the neighborhood and saw the audition announcement on Picketwire’s board. His wife said, “You should try out.” And he said, “OK.” Nelson is having fun with the wolf role. “I see him as schizophrenic. He is a slave to his hunger, but is still charming and cunning.” He manages to control his urges until the hunger takes over and then he needs to find dinner. “He also is rather lazy, so he doesn’t really want to hunt. He wants to eat as a result of his cunning.”
We asked Nelson how doing Sondheim compared with his other musical ventures. “I love his layered vocals. He takes some crazy minor chord and puts a major note on top of it. It gives a sinister context to the material – perfect for Grimm’s fairy tales.”
We finally come to something mysterious. As fate would have it, the name of the character is The Mysterious Man. It is played with mystery by Picketwire regular Tom Seaba. “My character has erratically comedic moments,” said Tom. “His time on stage is brief, but he adjusts the course of the play with every appearance.” Tom plays it with all the comedic timing we remember from his past performances. About singing Sondheim, he said: “The music is challenging, gorgeous, and mysterious.”
Levi said to tell everyone to “definitely come to the show. You’ll enjoy it and you will be surprised by all the magic.” “Into the Woods” production dates are: July 30 & 31 and August 1, 6, 7 & 8 at the Picketwire Center for Performing and Visual Arts in La Junta. Curtain time is 7:30 pm. Call 719.384.8320 for reservations.