‘Into the Woods’ weaves fairy tales with dark twist

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Shelby Hettinger of Jasper, left, portrays the witch, while producer Shane Denu of Jasper portrays the baker and Laura Witte of Evansville portrays the baker's wife during Wednesday's dress rehearsal of "Into the Woods" at Jasper Arts Center. Actors Community Theatre will present the show at the venue at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $12.


JASPER — A red cape, a golden slipper, magic beans and blond hair so long it can be used as a ladder.

Alone, these storybook symbols are tied to four iconic fairy tales with happily-ever-after endings. This weekend, Actors Community Theatre will weave and twist them into something a little darker, when the group puts on weekend performances of the famous musical, “Into The Woods.”

The first production will take the Jasper Arts Center stage at 7:30 p.m. tonight, and will return at the same time on Friday and Saturday. Sunday, an afternoon performance will begin at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 and the show lasts roughly 2 ½ hours.

The gist of “Into The Woods” is this: The lives of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Jack — who grows a beanstalk — are brought together by a baker and his wife, who search to break a curse that prevents the couple from having children.

That’s not it, though. What will happen after their happily ever after?

Director Matthew Herrmann, left, helps glue a mustache onto Samuel Osterman, 12, of Jasper, who portrays Cinderella's father, during Wednesday's dress rehearsal of "Into the Woods" at Jasper Arts Center.

Director Matt Herrmann explained that the musical tells the story of a family, while also exploring morals, relationships, and the concepts of wishing and hoping.

The cast consists of about 20 members from across Southern Indiana, who, at times, deliver lyrics and dialogue at a rapid-fire pace.

“It’s amazing chemistry,” Herrmann said of the group. Some members are as young as 12, while others, like Shane Denu, have been a part of the program for nearly two decades.

“ACT is a very welcoming community-based organization,” said Denu, who has been involved with the organization for 18 years and is currently on its board of directors. “It’s more like a family than anything else. It’s not a job, it’s fun. You get to meet different people all the time — it’s not always the same cast. And it’s so nice that an organization like this can be in the area and the community can be the stars.”

Though they were heavily involved with ACT when they were growing up, “Into the Woods” marks the first time in a decade that both Shelby Hettinger and Liz Book will be part of one of the group’s stage performances. But their return has been like riding a bike after spending years off one — much of their craft flowed right back into them when they stood on the stage.

“I think that this show has something for everyone,” said Hettinger, who plays the witch who cursed the baker’s family. “There’s a relatable plot line for everyone. [For] as out-of-the-box and kind of wacko as this show is, there’s a lot of very real issues that I think someone can relate to in every story. It’s witty and it’s really smart, and kind of dark humor, but it’s fun when you can pick up on those jokes. And it’s super entertaining.”

Alexis Kleiman, 15, of Jasper, left, portrays Little Red Riding Hood while Laura Witte of Evansville portrays the baker's wife during Wednesday's dress rehearsal of "Into the Woods" at Jasper Arts Center. The show will open 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Herrmann lives and works in theater in Los Angeles, but is staying with his parents in Evansville this summer. He was born in Evansville and has been in hundreds of area performances over the years — most recently in “Young Abe Lincoln” at the Lincoln Amphitheatre in 2017.

He said the “Into the Woods” set designers made a conscious effort to make the on-stage props as eco-friendly as possible. They sourced and carefully puzzled together cardboard and repurposable materials into cows, pigs, birds, a hen and a horse.

“It is ‘Into the Woods,’ and I don’t want to tear down the woods to create a woods,” Herrmann said.

He’s tried his best to bring his years of expertise and talent to the show, and he’s happy with how the cast has come together. The actors and those working behind the scenes have jobs and families and lives outside of the theater, but uniting them to bring the production to life has been a rewarding experience.

“You see them in a certain area, but here’s an opportunity to see them in a whole different light,” Herrmann said.

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