A New Direction for the HHS Musical

By: Echo Rogers

Hershey High School is taking a dark turn “into the woods.”

This year’s musical for HHS is Into the Woods, and it’s nothing like they’ve done in the past. This musical is darker, more difficult, and longer. With a change of management on top of it all, the cast has had a lot to contend with, but they aren’t letting that stop them. This week, on March 3, 2016, their show opens. They only have a few practices left before the big night.

The two-and-a-half hour performance is nothing like Crazy for You–the musical that was presented last year. Crazy for You had a lead and was a comical love story. Into the Woods, however, features five different stories: Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and the story of The Baker. Each story has a lead, and each leading character plays a unique role in the production.

As co-director Lisa Balanda explained, “It’s a smart musical.” Each line and song tells a little more about the story and the characters, while also revealing the intricacies of them. That’s why the cast of the musical spent several weeks breaking down the songs and learning them.

Junior Cara McErlean, who plays one of Cinderella’s stepsisters, said, “We were just doing music.”

The music is very different from last year’s musical as well. The songs in Crazy for You were more simplistic than the songs of Into the Woods.

“Vocally, it’s challenging.” Balanda said.

Another difference is the dancing. Dance was easily the hardest part in the musical last year. As for Into the Woods, it only features seven dancers who weren’t even originally in the script. In fact, most of the time they play as minor characters in the show instead of dancing. For example, the dancers play as Snow White, Aurora, and Milky White (Jack’s cow). As for the choreography within the show, it’s simple. It isn’t nearly as complicated as it has been in previous years.

Paige Randall, Cinderella’s other stepsister, looks into her mirror on February 22, 2016. McErlean and Randall practiced together since most of their lines are the same. Photo by: Cara McErlean
Paige Randall, Cinderella’s other stepsister, looks into her mirror on February 22, 2016. McErlean and Randall practiced together since most of their lines are the same. Photo by: Cara McErlean

Secondly, the show is darker and full of more serious themes. It has its funny moments, but they are few and far between.

Junior Maggie Lane, who plays Jack’s mother in the musical, said her death scene was difficult to play, “I’ve never died before.”

Lane’s death scene isn’t just a challenge for her but for Lane’s son in the musical as well. He too has to cope with the loss of his mother through the rest of the musical, and he isn’t the only one who has to face the death of loved one.

Thirdly, the set required some extra attention this year. Since the musical takes place in the woods, the set had to look like a forest. A lot of time had to be put into painting trees and creating an outdoorsy look. Plus, Rapunzel can’t be Rapunzel without a tower.

For the set designers, it’s a challenge to turn the stage into a forest, but the members are excited to see what the stage will look like. “I’m super excited for the set,” McErlean said.

Lastly, the cast members had to face a change in management. Michelle O’Brien, former co-director of the musical, had to step down this year. Due to complications with her surgery, she realized she couldn’t co-direct and decided to pass it on to Eric Mansilla, an elementary music teacher at Pine Grove Area School District.

Mansilla had helped out with HHS musicals before but never directed one. Both Mansilla and Balanda had to learn how to work with each other. Eventually, Mansilla took charge of the practices as Balanda focused on the nitty-gritty part of practice. “He’s been wonderful,” Balanda said.

Despite all these challenges, the cast and its directors are still looking forward to the show. As Balanda said, “It [the performance] reminds me why we do it.” As for the performers, they’ve spent several months preparing and practicing. In that time, they have grown close with not only their characters but with the other members of the cast. McErlean said, “It’s [the cast] like a little family.”

The endless hours of practice will finally be worth it when the lights dim on opening night. The “family” of Into the Woods is excited to show all the hard work they’ve done to ensure a great show.