While most stage productions feature a handful of lead roles, "Into the Woods" bucks the trend with what could be considered several characters with equal contributions.
Several plots from Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault fairy tales come together, including the main characters from "Little Red Riding Hood," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Rapunzel" and "Cinderella" as well as a few others.
"One of the interesting things about this play is there are a lot of different leads," said senior Rhiannon Gudge, who plays Cinderella. "They all kinda play an equal role and since it's overlapping stories, everyone is involved, so it's not like there are lead leads."
Students will perform "Into the Woods" at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, along with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday in the PHS auditorium. It will be the final production for Dan Johnson as theater director.
The roles of a baker and his wife tie the musical together through the story of their desire to begin a family and their various interactions with other characters.
"It puts 20 kids in the show and everybody's featured by their vignettes and how they come together," Johnson said. "So it's a neat show. It's a good ensemble show."
Gudge said her biggest challenge with her role as Cinderella involves the singing of her longest song, "On the Steps of the Palace."
"There's some interesting parts in it and with the music that are pretty tricky to nail down, so it's a little bit difficult," Gudge said.
Sophomore Katherine Champion has a few challenges of her own with the role of Jack.
"It's interesting; I've never done anything like that before," she said. "I think the biggest challenge is not necessarily the gender, but it's more the age. I'm playing a 10- or 11-year-old boy and I'm trying to get into the different little things that they do, like how they can't sit still and that kind of stuff."
Senior Matthew Goschie said he sees a little bit of himself in the role of Baker.
"I feel like he kinda reflects me in a way a little bit," he said. "He's not the sharpest tool in the shed but he kinda goes with the flow, I guess. There are some things that I can relate to with the character. He's really fun to portray."
Champion said she loves the play's music.
"It's so catchy and it's just the little hints they drop everywhere in the lyrics and I love the tricky time signature," she said.
One song that she sings, "I Guess This Is Goodbye," is her favorite part of the role.
"It's Jack singing goodbye to the cow he's selling, so at the very end, it's so sad and everything's upsetting and then the very last bit, he sings, 'I'll see you soon again and I hope that when I do it won't be on a plate' and I think it's hilarious," Champion said. "There's this little boy, he loves this cow so much and the only thing he can think to do is crack a joke at the end."
Goschie said the favorite part of his role is singing "It Takes Two," a duet with Kyla Berger.
"I've never had a big song that's just me — it's a duet between the Baker and the Baker's Wife," he said. "I like the song and it sounds really cool."
Goschie has been performing in school plays since his freshman year, originally getting involved after a friend talked him into it.
"I realized that I really enjoyed it and being part of the whole (acting) community, hanging with my friends and having fun doing musicals together," he said. "It just made it more enjoyable and I realized I like singing and acting and now it's like a big hobby of mine."
Toward the end of the 2017-18 school year, Johnson transitioned from performing arts director to the created position of high school success coordinator. The high school hired Erica Epperley to take over the music department and Johnson continued to serve as theater director.
However, Johnson announced that this will be his final production.
"We're turning everything over to Erica," Johnson said. "She will be band, choir and theater — a true director of performing arts. It's very exciting and this is a great transition into this."
Students had suggested "Into the Woods" as a play to perform and Johnson agreed to bring it to the stage this fall. The students started rehearsing the play in September.
"The first time I saw this show, I was student-teaching," Johnson said. "Musically, Sondheim is hard. He writes things that make you go, 'whoa.' It's a nice challenge."
Stephen Sondheim has become known as one of the greatest composers in American musical theater, winning a Pulitzer Prize in drama for "Sunday in the Park with George" and an Academy Award for best song with "Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)," from the 1990 film, "Dick Tracy." He has also won eight Grammy Awards, including in 1988 for "Into the Woods" for best musical cast show album.
Three students play more than one role in the play — Atli Thurman (Mysterious Man and Wolf), Fiona O'Daniel-Reynolds (Cinderella's Stepmother and Granny) and Aidan Goff (Cinderella's Mother and Rapunzel's Prince).
"There will be a surprise appearance on stage," Johnson hinted.
Shayla Vick handled the show's choreography for her senior project.
Champion said performing on stage is one of the best things she loves most about the school year.
"I get so much from not only just all the actors around me but when we actually get to perform," she said. "You're hearing the audience's energy and how they react to it based on the story that we're providing."