Burlingame’s “Into the Woods”: a thrilling, magical adventure


Jake Rothstein

The “Into the Woods” cast and crew pose for a photo just days before their first performance.

Jake Rothstein, Managing Editor

The lights flicker on; the curtains peel back, revealing the fantastical fairy-tale land encapsulating the stage. The Burlingame Theater Department performed the Tony Award-winning musical “Into the Woods” on March 11, 12, 18, 19 and 20 to packed audiences.

Written by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, “Into the Woods” is not an ensemble-heavy production, but rather requires a much smaller cast. With a cast list of just 22, Burlingame was able to perform the musical during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I wanted to choose a smaller musical due to Covid,” drama teacher and director Cindy Skelton said. “Normally, in non-Covid times, my musicals have anywhere from 40 to 44 actors, which is a lot.”

Skelton, who directed “Into the Woods” at Burlingame 13 years earlier, was eager to take advantage of the opportunity again.

“‘Into the Woods’ takes place in fairy-tale land with many of the fairy-tale characters that you know, and they’re interacting with each other,” Skelton said. “People start wishing for things, and things go wrong, people die or get squished, but in the end, we find out something about human nature and maybe about ourselves.” 

The fairy tales include “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” “Rapunzel” and “Jack and the Beanstalk,” offering the audience both a familiar and intriguing storyline. The plot follows three main characters who embark on an intertwined journey; the baker and his wife want to bear a child, Cinderella wants to attend the King’s Festival and Jack wants his cow to yield milk. Their separate undertakings but closely connected paths make for unique and entertaining character interactions.

For the first time during the pandemic, the performers didn’t wear masks while on stage, though masks were enforced while off-stage.

“I think it made the performance stronger in that you can see people’s facial expressions. You can really understand what their character is thinking,” Skelton said. “We’re very fortunate that like sports, we can test and be really safe, and then perform without masks.”

Some students were wary about loosening masking protocol, but both cast and crew managed to stay safe throughout rehearsal and performances.

“I was kind of scared at first. I thought like at least one of us was going to get Covid, and then spread it to the whole cast and crew and everyone involved, but luckily, that didn’t happen,” said sophomore Elizabeth Diehl, who played Sleeping Beauty and a puppeteer for Milky White.

During the play when the audience focused on the stage, the theater crew was working tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure everything flowed smoothly in the background.

“Everything that happens backstage is my responsibility, including ropes, anything that comes up and down [and] making sure the cast gets on stage at the right time,” said assistant stage manager Alexis Wong. “We want everything to flow as smoothly as possible; we don’t want to distract the audience with sudden jerky movements.”

The production requires extreme commitment from both the cast and crew, who began rehearsing in January and auditioned in December 2021.

“We were rehearsing six days a week,” said senior Laurel Brown, who played the Witch. “I was also in [the theater] with a lot of the other cast during lunch and Flex Time going over lines, choreography [and] working on lyrics. You could pretty much always find us in here at any point.”

Members of the cast raved about the theater community’s unique and extremely positive community that has fostered lifelong friendships. 

“These people are my best friends in the entire world,” Brown said. “I spend every single moment with them. They are so loving and supportive and hardworking and dedicated, and I just can’t imagine my life without them.”