It wasn’t that long ago that Erin Gaines was Mary Poppins.
Now, she’s a witch.
And she’s having a ball.
“I love how different she is from anything else I’ve ever played,” Gaines said shortly before rehearsal. “This is definitely the hardest role I’ve ever played.”
As Mary Poppins in 2015 with Hawaii Children’s Theatre, Gaines was sweet, smart and helpful.
As the witch of “Into The Woods,” well, she’s none of those things. It was a bit of an unexpected casting for Gaines, a stage veteran on Kauai.
“It’s like Mary Poppins evil twin,” she said, laughing.
“Into The Woods” presented by HCT’s After Dark program, opened Thursday and runs through Aug. 19 at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse.
Ed Eaton is directing the 12-member cast, with many playing multiple roles. The musical’s story for the 2014 movie is described like this:
“As the result of the curse of a once-beautiful witch, a baker and his wife are childless. Three days before the rise of a blue moon, they venture into the forest to find the ingredients that will reverse the spell and restore the witch’s beauty.
“During their journey, they meet Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack, each one on a quest to fulfill a wish.”
Music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim. Into The Woods was originally directed on Broadway by James Lapine.
Now, this is a different version of the play. For one, it takes places in a library instead of the woods. There’s some improv involved, cast is on stage as the audience when not involved in a scene and there’s a bit of audience involvement, too. It is an adult theme.
“I’m so love with what it’s become and how it’s portrayed,” Gaines said. “I think it will show the audience something different and unexpected, which is pretty cool.”
Ariana Franks plays Cinderella’s mother and the giant’s wife. As the giant’s wife, she has some fun.
“I show up and wreak havoc quite literally on the entire village,” she said. “A lot bad things happen because I’m around.”
Franks is delighted to be part of Into The Woods and believes it delivers an important message.
“It’s a very relevant show. It’s about the human condition. It’s about how we treat each other and how we think about other people and how we interact in the world,” she said.
The woods are a metaphor for life — the hard parts, the dark parts, the things we don’t like to talk about, the things we drudge through every day.
“And it’s actually the thing that unites every character in the show and it’s something that unites every person,” Franks said.
In these times when hostility, anger and accusations seem the norm, Into The Woods offers a better choice.
“We’re going to have to help each other out and get through it,” she said.
Like Gaines, Franks said this is “definitely a different version of the show. It’s not like a normal play. It’s either going to be something that everyone loves or something that everyone does not.”
It’s not a question of quality, but more a question of expectations.
“The purists might not like it. Other might go, ‘Oh, I see what they’re doing.”
Either way, Franks hopes people come out. They won’t be disappointed.
“It’s not just a play. It’s not just a bunch of people being in a play,” she said. “It’s a bunch of humans participating in a storytelling experience and it’s very human and it’s very true to life.”
Angela Soto plays Jack’s mother and Cinderella’s step-mother. It’s her first return to the stage in more than a decade.
“I remember really liking this play. This is so cool, different fairy tales coming together,” she said.
It’s an intricate story with life lessons, Soto added.
“No matter where you are or who you are, it applies to every one,” she said.
Chase Pitt plays Rapunzel’s Prince and Milky Way, Jack’s cow, and Cinderella’s step-sister.
“It’s a lot, but it’s fun,” he said.
Pitt first heard about Into The Woods in high school. When the movie came out a few years ago, he loved it.
“It felt like you were transporting from real life into fantasy land,” he said.
So when he heard HCT’s After Dark was putting it on, he was pleased to land several roles.
“It’s scary and exciting, everything I love,” he said.
Pitt also spoke of lessons to be learned.
“The experience these characters go through are things we as people will go through on a daily basis. Everything that happens to each character is going to be relatable to someone,” he said.
Sabryn Rudinoff is playing the roles of Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel, two opposites.
Little Red Riding Hood is fearless, loves adventure, and when she goes into the woods, she is not afraid to talk to the wolf. Rapunzel has been locked in a tower her whole life and is frightened.
Rudinoff is up to the challenge.
“I love Into The Woods. I always have,” she said.
When Rudinoff was 13, she donned a red cape, found a wooded area and played Little Red Riding Hood, while her sister took pictures. Today, the 15-year-old remains enthralled with the character.
“I love Little Red,” she said. “I love her part. She’s witty, adventurous, the spark of life.”
Into The Woods has light-hearted scenes early on, and emotional ones as the story progresses.
“It really just makes you think, makes you feel,” she said. “It makes you see all different sides of stories people have in life.”
Rudinoff said she and the rest of the cast want the audience to leave thinking about their lives, the good and the bad.
“We’re hoping to touch each and every audience member,” she said.