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"Into the Woods" at Covedale is Powered by Several NKU Theatre Grads

It’s a funny and emotionally affecting fairytale musical about wishes coming true – with a price;  and how happily ever after is seldom what you wished for.
 
It’s Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant Into the Woods, continuing through Nov. 16 at Cincinnati’s Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. The theater is across the river, but a lot of the key players in Covedale’s show were trained for theater at Northern Kentucky University. 
 
The story follows a Baker and his wife (Allison Muennich) who wish to have a child; Cinderella who wishes to attend the King's Festival; Jack, who wishes his cow would give milk... and The Witch (Michelle Wells), who some might call wicked – or a realist. Actions, she scolds the fairytale folk, have consequences.
 
Director/choreographer is NKU grad Matthew Wilson, and peek backstage and find production stage manager Jenny Lutes. 
 
The story, Wilson notes, features fairy tale characters, “but it is about real people. These characters, even as they deal with magic beans and Giants, are human.” His top priority was making that humanity shine through. “Their stories started before "Once Upon a Time ..." and they go on after "Happily Ever After." 
 
The only alums who were at NKU at the same time are Wilson and Lutes – and, coincidentally, were part of NKU’s production of “Into the Woods.”
 
“Jenny was the assistant stage manager when I played Jack (of Beanstalk fame),” Wilson recalls with a grin. “That production was 13 years ago ... almost to the day.” 
 
Wilson is a familiar face around Northern Kentucky, and a popular area director. He’s lived in Covington, Newport and Bellevue and taught Theatre and Dance at Highlands Middle and High School in Fort Thomas.
 
Lutes is a lifelong resident of Erlanger. When she’s not a student counselor by day at Clark Montessori Jr./Sr. High School in Cincinnati, she’s crazy busy making sure making sure Into the Woods is running smoothly – including the 210 light cues.
 
Wilson and Michelle Wells met aboard Showboat Majestic. Wells laughs, “I had just graduated (vocal performance) and he was just starting college. I have memories of him tapping backstage ALL the time. Granted, the show was Anything Goes, but he had a WHOLE lot of energy. Not much has changed. Just less tap dancing....”
 
Wells and Muennich (musical theatre) met last year at Covedale doing Legally Blonde, which won Muennich the broadwayworld.com Award for best featured actress in a musical in local online voting. 
 
Muennich says it’s been her dream to play two roles in “Into the Woods” since she discovered it. She’s played both this year, beginning with The Witch at Beechmont Players.
 
So what’s the moral of the story?
 
Muennich: You could ask 10 different people and get 10 different answers. For me, the moral is "be careful what you wish for." Every character in this show ends Act I exactly as you expect them to and you might even think the show could end there, but what happens after "happily ever after"?
 
“I think every person sitting in the audience can relate to always wanting more and striving to get that. Especially for my character, this takes her down some dark paths she never intended to go.”
 
Wells: “One of the big ones, especially for my character is to be careful what you say and what you do. ‘Children will listen.’ You have to allow children to be free but teach by example. Trying to shield them in order to protect them doesn't work.”
 
Wilson: “Is for each person in the audience to decide. There are obvious themes about the relationships between parents and children and an individual's responsibility to their community, but throughout the show there are small nuggets of wisdom that are going to speak to each viewer differently. It’s one of the things I love about ‘Into the Woods.’
 
“For me personally, right now, I think the moral is that our stories never really end, only chapters do. I am the extension of many people's stories and when I am gone my story continues through those I've had some sort of impact on.“
 
Into the Woods, through Nov. 16. Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, 4990 Glenway Ave., Cincinnati. Tickets: $24 adults, $21 seniors/students. 513.241.6550 and www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
 
Photo provided