APT returns to Victory Theater with Sondheim’s ‘Into the Woods’

APT returns to Victory Theater with Sondheim’s ‘Into the Woods’

Cinderella and Prince Charming have a secret: They’re in love. They’re getting married seven times on the Arkansas Public Theatre stage as the company finally opens Season 38 with “Into the Woods” April 5-14. In real life, the wedding is set for March 15 of next year .

Binta Francis and Jacob Andrews met for the first time two summers ago, working on the set for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” but they actually noticed each other during “American Idiot,” both at Arts One Presents.

“We had a little moment at the audition workshop,” Francis says. “We were just staring at each other, in awe of each other’s talent.”

“We had a budding ‘showmance’ then for sure,” Andrews adds.

The two finally came together on the APT stage in last year’s season finale, “It Shoulda Been You” — but not opposite each other, although both were also central to that wedding. Now they’ll reopen the renovated Victory Theater in the great love story of Cinderella “caught on the steps of the palace” and the Prince who is in “agony” for his perfect princess.

“I auditioned for Jack,” Andrews admits, but Francis, who says she is typically a “blow-the-house-down alto,” wanted to challenge herself with Cinderella. And thanks to director Brenda Nemec, a match was made in Stephen Sondheim heaven.

“I find that, despite how their story ends, those moments when we get to be in love are the easiest parts of the show,” Francis says.

“There are quite a few scenes where I get to stand in the wings and watch her shine,” says Andrews. “On stage and performing for people is where she belongs.”

Just as in real life, the moral of “Into the Woods” is that “sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for or what you want as there are always consequences to your actions, some good, some not so good,” says Nemec, who has worked on nearly 100 shows at APT and its predecessor, Rogers Little Theater. “It’s so great to be back in the Victory, but it is daunting. We are learning the new normal.”

Still, she adds, the reward for creating theater is “always the same.”

“You have a group of strangers that become family,” she explains. “Many don’t know each other prior to the show but walk away as friends. I love watching the cast come together musically and love listening to them sing each night. The changes in their characters from the first night to opening night are magical. I love the process of making a show.”

“I played the role of the Baker’s Wife in 2019, so I knew going into this experience as music director where the challenges might be for the cast,” adds Shiloh Jones, fresh out of the ensemble of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Perry Ryan Theater Co. “Two main challenges in this musical are the lyrics and memorization! Just when you think you have it, Sondheim changes it just a bit from the way you did it before. It’s an extremely challenging musical for the actors. This cast is so talented, and I’m so proud of their hard work and dedication to bring this story to life.”

Michael Weir plays the Narrator and the Mysterious Man, both of them pivotal roles in Sondheim’s bringing together of the fairy tales of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Cinderella” and “Rapunzel” with the new story of the Baker and his Wife.

“Interesting that both these characters I play control the story in their own respective way,” says Weir, in his 14th show at APT. “The Narrator literally tells the story to the audience, while the Mysterious Man as a character within the story uses his quirky demeanor to help push the characters to determine their own fates.

“‘Into the Woods’ is filled with comic roles like these, but what this show does so well is use that humor to ultimately address such deep themes like grief and abandonment,” Weir muses. “Building these themes from familiar childhood stories adds that extra layer.”

“We must always be mindful of the paths we take and the things for which we wish,” concludes Nemec. “Savor each moment as you never know how many moments you have.”



‘Into the Woods’

WHEN — 8 p.m. April 5-6; 2 p.m. April 7; again April 11-14

WHERE — Arkansas Public Theatre at the Victory in Rogers

COST — $46-$54.50

INFO — arkansaspublictheatre.org/tickets

FYI — Opening night will include a red carpet, a photo opp, a commemorative gift and a champagne toast.

Categories: Theater