STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Once upon a time, a Norristown theater company worked hard to produce a Sondheim musical classic. Audiences can see the fruit of their labor beginning Feb. 5 when the curtain goes up on “Into the Woods” at Theatre Horizon.
The story: A baker and his wife journey into the woods to reverse a curse cast by the Witch that lives next door. But when they encounter Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), and Little Red Riding Hood, fairytales collide on this quest that reveals that wishes do come true, but at a price.
“It’s the fairytales and stories we grew up hearing about, reading, having our parents tell us,” said actor Ben Michael. “You get those in the beginning, then in the second act, they get turned on their heads. It shows the aftermath of happily ever after.”
Michael, of South Philadelphia, is one of a cast of 10, who will be accompanied by a four-piece orchestra. He plays Cinderella’s Prince, the Wolf, and one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. How does one man play three such varied characters?
“A lot of it is trying to find the humanity in all of them,” Michael said, “especially the Wolf. It’s difficult to just go out there and be some beastly thing — people won’t be able to connect with him in any way.”
Being the stepsister is a lot of fun.
“I put on this gorgeous, amazing wig,” he said. “Oddly enough, just putting it on changes the way I walk and the way I am in the space.”
Michael’s favorite part of the show, though, is a song called “Agony” he sings as the Prince. It’s about how he can have everything he wants, except the young lady he’s interested in.
Michael, who grew up in Hatboro, gets what he wants as far as his career is concerned so far. He earned a BFA in Musical Theater from Syracuse and has toured with “Fiddler on the Roof” and performed at the Walnut Street Theatre. He teaches a few classes at local theaters, too, but he loves performing the most.
“I like to sing. Musical theater is something I’ve grown up with,” he said. “I fit well within it.”
He has loved theater since he was about 6 or 7 and a neighbor took him to see “Peter Pan.” When he came home, “I busted in the door and crowed like it was my job,” he said, like Peter does in the show at one point. “That was the first time I was moved in a large way by theater.”
He’s moved by this show, too, and thinks it’s a classic because of its beautiful words and music, but also because the themes are timeless.
“One of the song lyrics is ‘Careful of the things you say. Children will listen.’ Make sure you aren’t putting terrible things in their heads,” he said.
Plus, it’s all about perspective and “about how actions affect other people,” he said.
And it’s about learning from mistakes. That’s what Little Red Riding Hood does, says her portrayer, Leigha Kato. The actor relates to Red’s wanting to be grown up and thinking she knows more than she does.
“I always had this independence and I was kind of a know-it-all with my brother and cousins,” she said.
Kato, who grew up in California and went to the University of the Arts, loves having theater as a creative outlet. She would like to perform on Broadway, but is happy to return to her adopted region for this show and Little Red, a dream role for her, she said.
She thinks audiences will enjoy the show, especially because of the people and the work that have gone into making this production.
“The cast is incredible. There’s so much talent,” she said. “And it’s really fun. Everyone’s having a great time and I think it shows.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Into the Woods”
Where: Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb St., Norristown.
When: Feb. 5 through March 1; Opening night Feb. 12.
Tickets: $30 previews; Feb. 12-March 1 $39-43; $37-41 seniors (62+); $25 young friends (30 and under) and students.
Info.: Call (610) 283-2230 or visit www.theatrehorizon.org.