By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
With several musicals under their belts, the students in the Cherokee Performing Arts program at Cherokee Central Schools are taking some risks with their latest production, “Into the Woods”. The students will perform the Tony Award-winning play by Stephen Sondheim in the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center on Thursday, May 2 at 7 p.m.; Friday, May 3 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, May 4 at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, May 5 at 2 p.m. Admission, as always, is $5 per person.
“We have some really great kids who needed to be challenged,” said Michael Yannette, Cherokee Central Schools director of choir and musical theater. “We needed a show that would give our students the next step. Musically, it’s a really tough show to sing. It’s a lot more complex, and it really has a lot more meat. It’s a really big show. What you think is going to be just a cute little fairy tale goes down a lot of rabbit holes.”
Ella Montelongo, Cherokee High School junior, plays the part of The Witch aka Rapunzel’s mother. She said her character is quite complex. “In the first few minutes you know her, she is mean and comes off as heartless because she’s been through so much. She has so much heart to her; she just doesn’t let it show, and I sort of see myself like that.”
She said the range of emotions in the show will be very relatable to audience members. “That’s why I think it’s so great that we chose this show because that’s what we all needed was to have something that we could portray as ourselves. It is a challenging role because they are so many ways you can go about it, but the best way is to go about it the way you feel as the character.”
Montelongo added, “It’s really rewarding at the end because you finally figure out that this is what it was supposed to be all along, and I can bring my own spin to the character rather than have it be Bernadette Peters or other people that have played it. It’s a lot of fun.”
Chryssie Whitehead Disbrow is the director and choreographer for the show. “There are a lot of metaphors and deep meanings. It’s hard and it’s complex. The theme of the show is ‘be careful what you wish for, you just might get it’.”
She added, “If you love fairy tale characters and how they relate in a quirky, fun way, this show is for you.”
Jake Sneed and Marianna Hornbuckle, both Cherokee High School seniors headed this fall to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA), are playing the parts of the Baker and his wife.
“It’s much, much different than any role I’ve played in the past,” said Sneed. “What we go into with ‘Into the Woods’ is the consequences of your actions. It is one big romantic fairy tale in the beginning, but there’s so many layers, and I just feel that a lot of people will able to relate because it is happy, it is romantic, but there is also a sense of loss and a sense of grief and, ultimately, a sense of acceptance that my character goes through. It’s really just been a lot of fun but very difficult to sit down and put myself in the shoes of the Banker.”
Montelongo added, “It’s raw emotions. It’s real stuff being portrayed on stage.”
Hornbuckle has also been enjoying her character. “I relate to her a lot. She is a strong-minded, determined person, and when she has her mind set on something, she doesn’t give up. And, she goes to the depths of the Earth to get what she wants and what she needs in order to achieve this certain goal that she’s reaching for during the entire musical.”
This is her first major role, and she’s relishing the opportunity. “There’s definitely a lot more work you have to put into it. I’m used to being in the ensemble or in the background somehow. Going from being with everybody else in a large group and knowing a certain part is a big transition to having my own scenes and knowing my own songs. It’s a lot of fun because I like being challenged, especially musically. I do like having a bar set and me being able to reach the bar.”
Show goers will be thrilled with not only the production value of the singing and acting but also the set design. Megan Barnes, art director, noted, “We’re taking a new approach this year about including more of the audience’s space where we will have sets that place you more in the surroundings of the forest and will not be moved on and off the stage. We’re going to decorate the inside so it becomes more of a full experience for the audience.”
Cherokee cultural elements are included in the set design. “We always try to include Cherokee culture in the design elements that people in the audience will recognize as a tribute to our students and our community.”
From their first musical show, “Lion King Jr.” in 2016, Yannette has seen incredible growth in the students. “The first show was so beautifully received by the community. But, every year the kids have upped their game. You can’t compare the work that they did in the ‘Lion King’, which was a junior version and pretty easy comparatively, to the immense complexity of this show. The difference is they have several years under their belt now and so they’re bringing so much more to the table musically and as actors.”
Disbrow praised the program under Yannette’s leadership. “Practice makes you better and then having somebody lead them and have a vision. It takes one person to have a vision. It takes a village to make that vision come true.”
Making her directorial debut with this show, she is excited about the show and grateful for the opportunity. “I am grateful for Yannette to believe in me to steer the ship with these kids. I’ve found a new love for directing and storytelling and working with my kids. I couldn’t be more thrilled than to continue my journey as their director.”
To follow and support the Cherokee Performing Arts program, visit them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cherokeeperformingarts/