On Tuesday evening Jeff Murphy of the maintenance department at the regional high school uses a very large pole with a sharp point at one end to chip away at the ice in front of the Performing Arts Center. In the theatre world, break a leg is a euphemism said for good luck. But this isn’t literal, nor does it extend to audience members, which is why Mr. Murphy is hacking away at a particular pesky block of ice near the entrance to the theatre. Someone mentions a blowtorch might help.

“A flamethrower would be even better,” Mr. Murphy says.

Inside the theatre, the students are getting ready for a run through of Into the Woods, which opens tonight. Auditions for the show were in October, and rehearsals started back in November. But a lot comes together in the last few weeks, when the students begin to essentially live at the theatre. The recent weather has been an added wrinkle. On Monday, due to the threat of more snow, all after school activities were cancelled. But the show must go on. Tony Lombardi at the YMCA took the troupe in by opening up Alex’s Place for them to rehearse. Last week, when the blizzard closed school for three days, the students dug their way through the snow and wind and ice, and organized their own rehearsals at their homes.

“I have never worked with students who took that much dedication and pride in their work,” said Brooke Ditchfield who took over this year as head of the high school theatre department. The students had already chosen Into the Woods before she arrived. She was excited but knew there was a lot of work to do.

“Sondheim is really hard,” she admitted. “The music is written in such a challenging way.”

Inside the Performing Arts Center, two students practice their songs on stage.

“Did I abuse her or show her disdain? Why does she run from me?” sings Aaron Teves as Cinderella’s prince. Nils Aldeborgh playing Rapunzel’s prince shares the duet.

“Try to ignore Cinderella getting into her dress over there,” says Jan Wightman the musical director of the show as other actors enter the theatre and head to the stage.

Into the Woods is a mash-up of several Grimm’s fairy tales. In addition to Cinderella and Rapunzel, there is Little Red Riding Hood, Jack of beanstalk fame, the Wolf and many other familiar characters all thrown together in a musical narrative involving a childless couple cursed by the Witch. It premiered in 1986 and was written and directed by James Lapine, a summer resident of the Vineyard, who won a Tony for the show.

There are 25 members of the cast, which is mostly made up of high school students. Corrine Kurtz, a history teacher, plays the evil giant.

“She’s been known to make cameos in musicals,” Mrs. Ditchfield says.

But the play itself is definitely a community event. Jesse Keller of the Yard choreographed the dance numbers, Chelsea McCarthy a veteran of the Playhouse, designed the costumes, and the orchestra is made up mostly of adults from all over the Island. This is exactly how Mrs. Ditchfield imagined her new role, bringing together members of the wider Island community to work with and mentor the students.

“I wanted to make this program as porous as possible,” she says. “The Island just has so much talent.”

The mentoring sometimes stretches beyond creativity. Andrew Vandall who teaches history at the high school also plays the drums. In the orchestra pit he sips a very, very brown smoothie as he sets up his instruments. He shows it to a student.

“It’s made of bananas, avocado, spinach,” he says trying to convince the student to try it. “It’s raw, so I don’t waste energy with digestion.”

“It’s so brown it looks like hamburger is in there,” the student says, shaking his head and backing up.

“I think that’s the cinnamon,” Mr. Vandall says.

But perhaps the biggest example of Island talent for this production is Mr. Lapine, who Mrs. Ditchfield has worked with on a number of occasions, most recently his Tony nominated play Act One which played on Broadway last year. When the students first chose the play they didn’t know the writer/director had a Vineyard connection until Mrs. Ditchfield told them.

And did Mrs. Ditchfield consult with Mr. Lapine for this play? After all, in addition to creating it with Stephen Sondheim, he recently wrote the screenplay for the movie which is playing in theatres now.

“No, but he is going to talk to the students by Skype, just before the show tonight,” Mrs. Ditchfield says. “It’s a surprise.”

Into the Woods will be performed at the Performing Arts Center at the regional high school on Thursday, Feb. 12, through Saturday, Feb. 14, at 7 p.m. The originally scheduled Sunday matinee has been moved to Saturday at 2 p.m. due to conerns about the weather. The matinee will include both acts but Saturday night's performance will only include the first act.

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