Anything can happen in the woods

Theatre forays into forest for spring musical production


Rory Simmons

Josie Tolson, Natalie Caputo and Mekhi Williams glance at Archie Bracegirdle, who plays the Baker.

The Strath Haven Theater Department took viewers on a fairytale adventure during their spring musical production of “Into The Woods.” Under the direction of John Shankweiler, the cast of twenty-three students presented six weekend shows, from February 25 through March 6. 

The true magic occurred behind the scenes while the cast prepared for the show. They faced several obstacles, from Covid precautions to limited rehearsal time and a last-minute cast rearrangement, but they persevered under the pressure to take their audiences on a journey through the woods.

Roars of applause followed every performance, ensuring that each performer felt confident, comfortable, and supported by everyone around them. ”


In January, auditions took place outdoors by the third-floor entrance to allow the actors to be maskless and safe. These auditions brought a very unique energy that was unlike any other typical SHHS Theater audition: One by one, students sang a portion of one of five provided songs from Into The Woods in front of the panel of directors and other students. Roars of cheers and applause followed every performance, ensuring that each performer felt confident, comfortable, and supported by everyone around them. 

Into The Woods, written by Stephen Sondheim, is a musically and lyrically complex show that journeys through the tales of classic storybook characters like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel. Sondheim, Shankweiler’s favorite composer, passed away in November, making this year’s show a dedication and tribute to one of the greatest writers in musical theater history. 

The cast was excited to get into the swing of things with daily music rehearsals starting January 10. The rise of COVID cases at Haven posed new threats for the production, especially after a few members of the cast started to test positive early in the rehearsal process. However, the cast still managed to practice safely for several weeks leading up to the performance. 

Junior Ella Grossman, who plays Jack’s mother in the show, was grateful for the music department’s “amazing job at prioritizing safety,” adding that rehearsals were “a great distraction from the stress of school and Covid.” 

Shankweiler made sure that all of the actors maintained a safe distance from one another during masked singing rehearsals. To avoid any emergencies, each role had an understudy from within the cast, something not done in recent years. Students were responsible for their own part as well as learning their second role. 

This came in handy after Sammi Quinn, who played the Baker’s Wife, developed appendicitis and could not continue her role. Bella Emmanouilides, Quinn’s understudy, pivoted from her role as the stepmother to take on the female lead. The rest of the cast moved around to fill any other holes. In less than a week, the cast learned new songs, lines, and staging—elements that normally take months to learn.

Shankweiler praised the cast, especially Emmanouilidies, for their ability to rapidly readjust. 

“I was really [concerned] we might not have a second weekend,” he said. “But by 10:15 Monday morning, when I listened to Bella, I knew: we’re going.” 

Above all, this show proved the cast’s flexibility, dedication, and commitment that the show must always go on.