DOWNTOWN — What do you get when you condense a fairy tale and add 26 talented actors, ages kindergarten to 12th grade? At Patel Conservatory, you get the makings of an incredible production of “Into the Woods, Jr.” in the TECO Theatre.
Opening Friday and running through April 24, the junior version is the first act of the whimsical “Into the Woods” and with the intimate theater set up, the audience is, in essence, part of the show.
“This is a different take on classic ‘Into the Woods, Jr,’” said Suzanne Livesay, head of Patel Conservatory and musical director. “The audience is essentially on stage, very close to the actors, so there’s a few interactive moments with the audience. An audience member might actually be holding a prop that the actor may use. We’re really looking forward to it.”
With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and based on the book by James Lapine, the musical weaves the plots of several fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault with hysterical results. “Into the Woods, Jr.” follows the wishes of several fairy tale characters and is an epic tale about family and the choices people make.
Fourteen-year-old Alexa Lowrey plays the beguiling Cinderella. A student of Patel since third grade, Lowrey fell in love with musical theater with her first introduction, “Annie.”
“I hope to major in musical theater and do theater for a living,” she said. “I enjoy the work leading up to the show, but the feeling of opening night, being in front of a reacting audience — I just really like that feeling.”
Musical director Kavanaugh Gillespie explained that the best part of working with children was the a-ha moment — the first run through. With scripts out of hand and all staging finished, the shows runs from beginning to end without any stops.
“I find immense joy in watching students be successful. It is a great feeling when you share your knowledge with a student and help them to grow in their artistry,” said Gillespie. “I find this to be far more rewarding than I ever did as a performer.”
The Patel Conservatory is made up of three departments: dance, theater and music. Each of those departments employs specialized teaching artists that work with students of all ages and backgrounds to hone their craft.
“Because we have all three departments under one roof, it makes for some great collaborations. Putting on this musical is one of those great collaborations,” he said.
Ninth-grader Madison Potantus joined the Conservatory after moving to Florida in seventh grade. The 15-year-old actress stars as Rapunzel.
“What I love about musical theater is being able to express myself and do what I love, and be around people who feel the same way I do,” she said. “Everyone here understands each other and it’s kind of like a big family. This is the environment I like to be in.”
The song favorite of both the actresses and musical director is “Agony.”
“I love when the two princes sing over the princess. It’s hilarious,” said Lowrey.
Potantus added: “I have to agree with Alexa. I do love ‘Agony’ — that is an amazing number in the show, but the opening and finale really tie the show all together, brings out the storyline, and I love all the connections it makes and the choreography is incredible. Everyone singing together has a beautiful sound. It’s a great way to open and to end the show.”
Performances are Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m. Regularly priced tickets start at $20 and may be purchased by calling (813) 229-STAR (7827), visiting the Straz Center Ticket Office or at www .strazcenter.org.
For information, call (813) 222-1002 and visit www.patelconservatory .org.