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Into the Woods … and onto the stage

Unicoi County High School drama students will present “Into the Woods Junior,” a shorter version of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical. The production is slated to debut in April and will showcase the work of UCHS students, who were involved in every aspect of the show.
“Into the Woods Junior” presents a new view of classic fairy tale characters in a different take on the stories of the Brothers Grimm. The musical follows a baker and his wife, who learn they’ve been cursed with childlessness by the witch next door.
The couple embarks on a quest – swindling, deceiving and stealing from such already-victimized characters as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack (fresh off the beanstalk!) – to get the special objects required to break the spell. However, it doesn’t just end “happily ever after,” as each character must now face the consequences of his/her decision.
According to Lori Ann Wright, UCHS drama instructor, with the many talented student cast and crew members, “Into the Woods Junior,” is sure to be a crowd-pleasing production.
“I have 28 students working on the production,” she said. “They’ve loved it, and this is probably the best cast I’ve ever had. I was so pleased when we had so many audition. We had great voices to choose from. So many of them were right for certain parts that it was hard to choose. I’m always amazed by the diverse talents of UCHS students.”
Wright added that those 28 students – whether members of the cast or crew – have worked tirelessly on the production for weeks and even rehearsed on Saturdays.
“They have rehearsals after school,” she said, “and we even added Saturday rehearsals because of all the snow we had. Even with Saturday school, they still came to Saturday rehearsals.”
Wright added that “Into the Woods Junior” has proven challenging for her students because the story unfolds almost entirely through song. She explained that in other productions, including last year’s performance of “Grease,” students had lines of dialogue, which is significantly different than revealing everything through song.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the production, however, is that all elements of the musical are executed by UCHS students.
“They do all the vocals,” Wright said. “They do all the stage work, they’re finishing up the choreography, they’re involved in costume design and stage design. The students do all the theatrical elements.”
Wright’s drama students are involved in at least 12 projects each year. Of those 12 projects, students are involved in four full productions, such as “Into the Woods Junior.” And as a result of Wright’s rigorous yet enjoyable curriculum, the drama program has grown tremendously.
“I have four drama classes, and I try to have each class to a one-act production,” Wright said. “My first year (teaching), I had no full drama classes. I would only have about 20 students per class. I am happy to say that this year, my classes are full, and I had a waiting list of 17 kids.”
Wright attributes the growth in the drama program do the hands-on experience they gain in class.
“Kids like to be doers, and the more you let them do, the more they learn,” she said.
“Into the Woods Junior” will debut on Friday, April 8, and will run through Sunday, April 10. Friday and Saturday performances begin at 7 p.m., while Sunday’s performance begins at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students. The public is invited to attend the performance.