'Into the Woods' follows journey of self-discovery

Cary Ashby • Apr 4, 2019 at 12:00 PM

BELLEVUE — Bellevue High School students Joshua Higgins and Katie Jo Porter are playing a married couple for the second time in row. 

Higgins, a sophomore, plays the baker in “Into the Woods” while Porter, a senior, plays his wife. The 25-member cast will perform the musical at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and again at 3 p.m. Sunday at Bellevue Elementary School.

The baker, while on a journey of self-discovery, goes from being self-centered and “full of himself” to discovering important keys to a marriage, Higgins said.

“He starts at this low point,” added the son of Dan and Liesl. “Life is now just routine, kinda disappointing day after disappointing day. … At the end of the show — I don’t want to give too much way — he learns kinda how to become a strong individual.”

Higgins has performed in the last two fall musicals at Bellevue. He was in “All Shook Up” most recently and as a freshman, he performed in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

“Art isn’t the best of the best; art is what you choose to make of what you have and give that out to the world. So I think we’re doing a really nice job here at Bellevue of making art,” the sophomore said.

The Bellevue cast recently had been rehearsing two shows since the students were preparing “All Shook Up” for the Ohio Thespian State Conference.

“The balance has gone really, really well. Our casts in both shows have been amazing. Our director (Angie Bickhart-Sommers) is just amazing, casting people (who) fit well in our roles,” Higgins said. “That level of togetherness and community we have as a cast is amazing.”

For “All Shook Up,” he and Porter played a couple who fell in love. Higgins said he and his fellow cast member went from portraying a relationship with “heightened emotion and a little bit awkward passion” in the fall show to the stagnant marriage of “Into the Woods.”

“As we go into the woods, the baker realizes he needs his wife there,” he added.

Freshman Amber Bowering plays the witch, who visits the couple at their home early in the show.

Bowering — with a big smile — said she has to channel “my inner high-schooler,” a student who is “mean, really mean.” The teenager said she hunches over while in character, throws in some sarcasm and acts like a “know-it-all.”

“Then I kinda put everyone in their place and tell them, ‘I’m better than you,’” added the daughter of Angela and Jason. “A lot of attitude.”

Embodying the witch has been a challenge.

“Because at some points in time, I want to come back to who I really am; I’m very bubbly and I like to dance around,” Bowering said. “I have a lot of energy as a person, so I just kinda like, go on stage and have as much fun as I can. … You’ve just gotta put the energy into the songs.”

Tackling Stephen Sondheim’s music has been a challenge.

“He doesn’t write music for middle-schoolers; this is just really, really challenging stuff,” Higgins said.

The baker eventually meets Jack (junior Julia Ochenduski) from “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

“His family is very poor and he has to sell his best friend, Milky White. His mom is making him sell the cow,” said Ochenduski, whose character faces a lot of pressure.

“He doesn’t want to do it, so he’s very frustrated this whole time. He’s like, ‘I don’t want to give up my cow.’ He ends up running into the baker and making a really bad decision of selling his cow for some beans.”

Ochenduski mostly was comfortable singing Jack’s songs because she is a tenor, the higher range for a male.

“So a lot of it fit pretty perfectly in my vocal range,” she said.

“All of the music numbers blend everything together. We start with three separate stories of ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ and the baker and his wife and they kinda transition into they’re all going into the woods for a different (purpose),” the teenager added. “It all just kinda amazingly squashes itself; I’m not sure how (Sondheim) did it.”

When Jack appears later in the musical, “he actually causes quite a bit of trouble that kinda moves the story plot along,” Ochenduski said. “Into the Woods” then follows “Jack and the Beanstalk,” with the giants pursuing Jack.

“They come down and wreak all sorts of havoc because he stole all of their stuff,” said Ochenduski, the daughter of John and Nicole.

Before this production, Ochenduski saw the film version of “Into the Woods.” Later, she bought a copy of yet another version, from Broadway, when Family Video closed in Bellevue. She said the Broadway rendition was funnier and not “as dark and serious” as the 2014 movie.

“Ours is very funny — a lot of comedy, a lot of craziness,” she added.

Bowering, who has been doing theater for seven years, including performances at the Bellevue Society for the Arts, provided several reasons to see the Bellevue production of “Into the Woods.”

“Why would someone want to see this musical? Because not only do they get to see their friends, but they get to see them perform and you get to see people have … a really good time embodying someone that they don’t always get to play — someone totally, completely opposite from who they really are.”

Norwalk Reflector Videos