- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

"Into the Woods, Jr.," a one-hour children's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical, which opens tomorrow at the Kennedy Center, weaves music and fairy tales with lessons of self-discovery and personal responsibility, much like the original, says director Richard Thompson.

The deeper topics are explored through the adventures of Grimms' fairy tales, including "Cinderella," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Rapunzel," in a production for, by (with some adult guidance) and with children.

"I hope what the children come away with is their responsibility toward the community and the idea that what you do really makes a difference," Mr. Thompson says.

Mr. Thompson has worked with 50 children two casts of 25 students each on the production for about six weeks. It is part of the Kennedy Center's four-month-long Sondheim Celebration. All children are District public school students in grades four through nine.

Jamal Sanders, 14, a student at Paul Junior High School, a charter school in Northwest, plays Cinderella's tuxedo-clad prince. He says he easily can identify the musical's underlying theme of personal responsibility and growth. Then he adds another of life's lessons that is important to him: "I think it's important to have fun in whatever you're doing."

"It's easier to excel in what you're doing if you are having fun," says Jamal, who would like to become a professional singer-actor.

Ashley Burris, 12, a student at Charles H. Houston Elementary School in Northeast who plays one of Cinderella's stepsisters, says being part of the musical has been a real self-confidence booster for her.

"I think what I have learned is that I can go somewhere in life, that I can enhance my skills," Ashley says.

In one twist of events in the play, a baker and his wife who want a child, but seem unable to have one, ask a witch for help. The witch says that to make their wish come true, she needs a lock of Rapunzel's hair, Little Red Riding Hood's red cape, Jack's goat and Cinderella's slipper.

Mr. Thompson says greedy actions by the baker and his wife, as well as the witch, have consequences.

"Are you hurting someone else's feelings by your actions?" he asks rhetorically as he notes the issues they raise. "What is the price to pay for yourself as well as for others? Those are the questions you have to ask yourself."

The students also have been working on the set and costume design with professionals for the past six months, incorporating their own sense of fashion into the costume design and drawing from their own experiences when creating sets and props.

"Cinderella is wearing fairly contemporary clothing, and Rapunzel's tower is the Washington Monument," Mr. Thompson says.

"That's the best thing about this production, the heavy influence of the young people," he adds.

Mr. Sondheim is expected to be in the audience on opening night.

WHAT: "Into the Woods, Jr."

WHERE: The Kennedy Center's American Film Institute Theater, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and May 10; 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday and May 11; 1:30 p.m. on Sunday and May 12.


PHONE: 202/467-4600

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