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Sondheim classic at Benet Academy
By Joan Broz | Daily Herald Columnist

Nearly 100 students audition for 24 roles in Benet Academy's musical "Into the Woods," a story that interweaves characters and plots from fairy tales.


Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Benet's spring musical, "Into the Woods," is a collaboration between the music department and the drama troupe. Co-director Brian Wand, left, works with sophomore Conor Culloton, center, and junior Chris Siemann on a song.


Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Benet sophomore Theresa Moen works with papier mache to craft the boulders and trees for the forested setting of "Into the Woods."


Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/4/2010 12:01 AM

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Benet Academy's production of "Into the Woods" carries a compelling message: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

Weaving together fairy tales with lyrical melodies, the plot builds upon what happens to Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Jack (of beanstalk fame) after the traditional storybook ending of living "happily ever after."

The $10 tickets for "Into The Woods" go on sale Tuesday, March 2, at the Lisle school. Play dates are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, March 11 to 20, with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday, March 14, in St. Daniel Hall performing art center at the corner of Maple and Yackley avenues.

For those not familiar with Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning musical, a series of fairy tale characters cross paths in the woods with a Baker and his Wife who yearn to have a child. A witch bargains with the couple to fetch the ingredients for a cure-all potion. They need, "a cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slippers as pure as gold."

The complex story blends different fairy tales until a creative tale of its own emerges.

Memorable characters include a milky-white cow, witty wolf, nasty witch and a couple of not-so-charming princes. Jack's mother, Cinderella's family, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are pulled into the quandary.

The ensemble cast allows each principal performer a part of equal importance.

"We combine the drama troupe and music department to put on our spring musical each year," said Brian Wand, chairman of Benet's music department. "Sondheim poses a fantastic challenge for our students with layers and layers of depth."

Staging a full-scale musical is a collaborative process at the Lisle school. Wand and Lauren Condon co-direct. John Leffler, the drama troupe moderator, oversees the set, and band director Rich Alifantis the music. Students are actors, orchestra members and stage crew. Everyone helps build the sets and scenery.

"We have wonderful parents volunteer to create the costumes," Condon said.

In December, clinics and auditions were open to all Benet students; 97 auditioned for the 24 coveted spots in the small cast. In previous musicals, 50 to 60 student actors took part.

With daily three-hour practices and longer sessions on the weekends, the actors and directors stage and rehearse the script line by line. Careful consideration is given to both movement and expression.

When not in a scene, actors work to layer papier-mâché to the rock outcroppings for the set. A bin full of old newspapers from the school library blend with an impressive 80-pound sack of flour and water to cover hundreds of feet of chicken-wire covered frames. When complete, crews will sponge on earth-tone colors.

The set will include a few rolling pieces to indicate different geographic areas in the woods. Three 24-foot tall trees anchor the main stage.

"We start designing and building the set before Christmas," Leffler said. "One of the time-consuming tasks was to create a tree that could safely hide an actor inside."

Senior Megan Blouin, 17, from Naperville who plays the Baker's Wife is no stranger to acting. As a junior high student, she performed at the American Girl Theater in Chicago. This is her fourth musical at Benet.

Blouin works together with the Baker, played by senior Jordan DeLeon, 18, from Bolingbrook and a regular in Benet musicals.

"Megan and my characters are not known to our audience, so we need to work to make them well-known," DeLeon said. "Production is really intense and we are expected to measure up."

Both actors try to think of similar experiences when developing their characters. Blouin said studying the characters in other plays and watching a movie version of "Into The Woods" helped them understand the dynamics of each character.

Senior Laura Mikeworth, 18, from Woodridge, brings to her role of the Grandmother her previous experience as an assistant director.

"It is a fun experience to work with so many talented people," Mikeworth said. "I'm learning a lot of important lessons such as how to take direction."

The Benet production is the full-length Broadway version of "Into The Woods" that studies friendships and relationships. A junior version, written for children's theater, skips the entire second act.

"Doing the complete two-act musical gives us the opportunity to develop the full depth of each character," Wand said.

The first act is a creative fairy tale with a curse and tidy solution. Act Two turns dark and complex as unhappy characters learn the consequences of their actions and explore why living "happily ever after" is not always how things end.

With wonderful songs, an ingenious script and, at times, chaotic premise, Benet Academy's "Into The Woods" may change forever how you read fairy tales after the words "Once Upon a Time."

• Joan Broz writes about Lisle. E-mail her at

If you go

What: "Into the Woods," Benet Academy's spring musical

When: 7:30 p.m. March 11-13 and 18-20; 2 p.m. March 14

Where: Benet's St. Daniel Hall, Maple and Yackley avenues, Lisle

Tickets: $10

Info: (630) 969-6550