Review: Into the Woods at Riverside High School

by Aiden Carroll of Heritage High School

“I Wish…” The anaphoric phrase rings out over and over again in the quiet theatre. A quick introduction to a cast of characters, the grand curtain opens, and suddenly we’ve all been whisked away to the Wood. Written by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine in 1986, Into the Woods became a quick favorite amongst musical theatre aficionados everywhere–between the beautiful score, intriguing script, and timeless plot, Into the Woods has captivated audiences for 30 years now. The story follows several fairytale characters through one overarching journey into the woods, complete with romance, comedy, and tragedy. Riverside High School’s production of Into the Woods continued this legacy, retaining the signature moments of the show while putting their own spin on this classic musical.

In every meaning of the phrase, Into the Woods is the quintessential ensemble show–the students at Riverside HS not only met this expectation, but surpassed it entirely. Each individual character blended seamlessly into the whole, moving in near perfect unison and striking harmonies tight enough to ensnare the audience for the lengthy performance. This sort of cooperation was highly impressive; however, the individualization of each personality within the ensemble was what truly captivated. In numbers like “No One is Alone”, individual characters such as Cinderella (Meghan Muldoon) and the Baker (Joshua Wisdom) came together in harmony while retaining their own singularity.

Amanda Hampton’s performance as the ever-gentle Baker’s Wife was a standout from the beginning–from her first entrance, Hampton carried herself with the air of a weary, middle-aged woman. During group numbers, Hampton blended into the ensemble of characters, contributing to musical gems such as the Prologue. On her own, however, Hampton completely transformed into the Baker’s Wife, perfectly contrasting comedic moments with her character’s overarching woe. In solo numbers such as “Moments in the Woods,” Hampton coupled standout vocals with extensive characterization to create a truly hypnotic performance.

The Marketing and Publicity Team at Riverside HS, run by Joshua Wisdom, led a strong effort to publicize this performance both near and far. In its first year, Riverside HS still lacks the “cult following” that many older high schools in the area enjoy (i.e. alumni who come to see every show). However, Wisdom’s team took to social media and the streets of Leesburg to publicize this performance, tweeting pictures nearly everyday and distributing a-frames throughout the Leesburg / Lansdowne area. During the Friday night performance, their 1,000+ seat auditorium was nearly filled to capacity–a somewhat magical feat, in and of itself.

Overall, Riverside HS’ production of Into the Woods was a performance rife with whimsy, emotion, and talent. It is a well-known stigma amongst young actors that Sondheim spells certain doom for a high school show: between the tight harmonies, lengthy score, and incredibly complex characterization, many young actors struggle to fully convey the meaning of Sondheim’s pieces. However, Riverside has set a new precedent for high school theatre, proving that if you truly wish for something, it may just come true.

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