Alexandra Billings & Jane Kaczmarek to be Featured in INTO THE WOODS Presented by Pasadena Playhouse & P.U.S.D.

Over 200 high school students and faculty members have been working to design, rehearse and create their own special production.

By: Jan. 06, 2023
Alexandra Billings & Jane Kaczmarek to be Featured in INTO THE WOODS Presented by Pasadena Playhouse & P.U.S.D.

In a landmark partnership, Pasadena Playhouse has been collaborating with all of the high schools of Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) over the past 6 months to realize the students' vision of Into the Woods. Working alongside theater professionals, and directed by Los Angeles director Fran de Leon, over 200 high school students and faculty members have been working to design, rehearse and create their own special production. The students are from the four Pasadena Unified comprehensive high schools: Pasadena High School, John Muir High School Early College Magnet, Blair High School, and Marshall Fundamental Hugh School. The production will also feature Jane Kaczmarek as the Narrator at the evening performance on January 27th, and the voice of Alexandra Billings as the voice of the Giant at all performances.

After months of collaboration, the project will culminate in 3 performances at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on January 26-27. Two performances will be student-only audiences comprised of other students from PUSD. One performance on January 27 at 7 p.m. will be free for the community. Tickets will be available to reserve beginning January 17 at pasadenaplayhouse.org or by calling Pasadena Playhouse at 626-356-7529.

This is the kickoff event for Pasadena Playhouse's six-month celebration of Stephen Sondheim January 26 through June 11, 2023, which includes two full productions - Sunday in the Park with George and A Little Night Music, concerts by two rising stars, a community choral event, and more. The grand finale will be a special concert by Sondheim muse Bernadette Peters.

Imagine being a 17-year-old high school drama student working alongside theater professionals to design and perform Into the Woods on a famed Pasadena stage. This winter, it's a dream come true for more than 200 PUSD students and teachers as they prepare for the unique production that will be enjoyed by an audience of 8,500 student and community members.

Into The Woods is the lyrically rich retelling of classic Brothers Grimm fables, with Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine bringing the cockeyed fairytales to life on stage featuring all of your favorite characters - Cinderella, her prince, Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf, Jack (his beanstalk, his mother and cow Milky White) and the Witch - who has cast a powerful spell.

Into the Woods is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI). This production brings a fresh local perspective, with references to Pasadena geography, landmarks, and history of the region, as well as the social and systemic challenges faced by underrepresented communities in the region over time.

"Students are gaining valuable skills and experience on a professional stage with some of the most respected artists in musical theater in the country," said Karen Anderson, Coordinator of PUSD's Arts Education program. "They're working with vocal coaches, set designers, and tech crews, learning to solve problems creatively, collaborate with new teammates, and articulate complex theoretical concepts. Students are developing confidence in their voices and bodies and growing their social-emotional and communication skills."

Students are in the final stages of rehearsal, building costumes and sets, and pit orchestra rehearsal. PUSD teachers are also supporting rehearsals and serve as co-directors on the production, collaborating with professional director Fran de Leon.

Danny Feldman, Producing Artistic Director of Pasadena Playhouse stated, "We couldn't think of a better way of starting our celebration of Sondheim than by introducing his work to the next generation of theater makers and audiences. This will be an Into the Woods like no other and thanks to the generous support of so many, we'll be able to offer the show free for the community."

The cast of Into the Woods includes Asher Hammer as the Baker, Makenna Magalong as the Baker's Wife, Ida Hartel as the Witch, Yazlynn Acosta as Cinderella, Zephen Peter as Cinderella's Prince/Wolf 1, Maddie Harbison as Red Riding Hood, Mattias Orr as Jack, Amora Evans as Jack's Mother, Audrey Bradley-McKinnon as Rapunzel, Kaleb Del Villar as Rapunzel's Prince/Wolf 2, Vega Benn as Cinderella's Stepmother, Jade Farrise as Florida, and Yahsaiah Curry as Lucinda.

The cast also features Michael Mendoza as Mysterious Man, Jasper Barrera as Steward, Marley Thach as Milkey White/Cinderella's Mother US, Paulina McConnell as Granny/Cinderella US/Jack Puppet, Genesis Holmes as Cinderella's Mother/Granny US, Marshall Gluck as Narrator/Baker US, and Joel Griffin as Cinderella's Father/Rapunzel's Prince US.

The Ensemble of Into the Woods includes Zora Arceneaux as Lady Giant/Jack's Mother US, Elizabeth Amicone as Cinderella's Mom Arm/Little Red US, Akemi Wong as Cinderella's Mom Arm/Rapunzel US, Emily Johnson as Steward US, Phinn McFarland as Little Pig #1/Jack US/Puppet US, Ian Timburg as Little Pig #2/Cinderella's Prince US, Josiah Bowman as Giant/Cinderella's Father US, Olivia Barrios as Little Pig #3/Witch US, Stepmother US. Felisa Favela as Baker's Wife US, Silvia Pinto as Sleeping Beauty/Florinda US, and Miranda Ho as Birds/Snow White/Lucinda US.

Student Stage Managers include Waverly Knight, Jupiter Diaz, Isaiah Rios, Katie Mencken and Roman Favela.

Auditions for the district's all-star musical, complete with call-backs, were held in September.

The all-star musical is a culmination of PUSD's powerhouse performing arts programs, which includes exposure and practice in drama, dance, instrumental music, and vocal music starting in preschool.

All PUSD students in grades four through eight will attend matinees of the Into the Woods on January 26 and 27 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for this live theater experience.

PUSD students are participating as actors, musicians, technical crew, and costume and scenic design.

ACTING: Acting students auditioned for placement in performance tracks. The casting of Into the Woods was expanded to include a choral ensemble and additional speaking roles. Understudies are also included for the lead roles.

  • Students rehearse with a professional director and music director throughout the entirety of the production. Teachers assist and supervise at all rehearsals and serve as co-directors on the production, allowing for hands-on mentorship and professional development.
  • Additionally, acting students have a chance to attend and perform in master classes with professional actors.


ORCHESTRA: Under the direction of a professional music director/conductor, student musicians learn and perform the production score of Into the Woods

  • Orchestra students were nominated by their respective schools to participate in an "All Star" ensemble composed of students from various PUSD schools.
  • Rehearsals are led by a PUSD conductor, and performances will be conducted by a professional conductor.


TECH CREW: During the production, students will serve on the crew of the deck, costume, and prop departments under professional crew heads, gaining first-hand experience of a professional theater backstage environment.

  • Lead positions were determined by an application process
  • A Stage Tech class from one of the high schools is taking the lead on supporting crew


COSTUMES: A student costuming class is designing and building the costumes for Into the Woods to gain further understanding of costume considerations in a professional setting.

  • Students in a costume design program are designing and building costumes under the direction of a PUSD faculty member.
  • Costuming professionals provide master classes to this group of students


SCENIC DESIGN/PROJECTIONS: Student artists are learning about storytelling through scenic design and assist in the design, scenic painting and/or projection design of Into the Woods

  • Students in one scenic design/art class program design either painted stage flats or drawn projections under a PUSD faculty member.
  • Unused student design concepts will be displayed either onsite in the Civic or in an online portfolio.


Additionally, ALL STUDENTS involved in the process have the following opportunities:

DRAMATURGY: All students involved in Into the Woods explore the history and dramaturgy of the piece. Students take a deep dive into the history of fairy tales, break down the script of Into the Woods, and examine narrative, themes, and interpretations.

  • Students attend a field trip lecture to The Pasadena Playhouse (or 2-3 events in a lecture series) on these themes.


OBSERVERSHIPS: Observership students are nominated by PUSD faculty. Small cohorts of students observe/assist in the following sections: Directing, Music Directing, and Stage Management/Design. Students develop mentorship relationships with professional artists and gain hands-on experience of these professions.

TEACHER IMPACT: Teacher professional development opportunities abound in this hands-on experience side by side with working professionals. Lead high school teachers with focus on one of the production areas:

  • Theater Tech
  • Costume
  • Visual Design
  • Directing/Music Directing


STUDENT IMPACT (beyond those participating in production):
All students in grades 4-8 will attend matinees of the show on Jan 26 & 27 at the Civic Auditorium. PUSD and Pasadena Playhouse will truly "open the stage" for over 5,000 students with this live theater experience.

ABOUT PASADENA PLAYHOUSE

Pasadena Playhouse has been bringing people together for more than 100 years to experience bold and important theater. It is one of the most prolific theaters in American history with a legacy of profound theatrical impact and courageous new work. In 1937, the Playhouse was officially recognized as the State Theater of California for its contribution and commitment to the dramatic arts. Today it continues that tradition of excellence under the helm of producing artistic director Danny Feldman. Dedicated to enriching lives through theater, community programs and learning initiatives, Pasadena Playhouse is a living force in the community.

Stephen Sondheim:

Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for Saturday Night (1954), A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962), Anyone Can Whistle (1964), Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), The Frogs (1974), Pacific Overtures (1976), Sweeney Todd (1979), Merrily We Roll Along (1981), Sunday In The Park With George (1984), Into The Woods (1987), Assassins (1991), Passion (1994) and Road Show (2008) as well as lyrics for West Side Story (1957), Gypsy (1959) and Do I Hear A Waltz? (1965) and additional lyrics for Candide (1973). Anthologies of his work include Side By Side By Sondheim (1976), Marry Me A Little (1981), You're Gonna Love Tomorrow (1983), Putting It Together (1993/99) and Sondheim On Sondheim (2010). He composed the scores of the films Stavisky (1974) and Reds (1981) and songs for Dick Tracy (1990) and the television production Evening Primrose (1966). His collected lyrics with attendant essays have been published in two volumes: "Finishing the Hat" (2010) and "Look, I Made A Hat" (2011). In 2010 Broadway's Henry Miller's Theatre was renamed The Stephen Sondheim Theatre in his honour; in 2019, London's Queens Theatre was also renamed the Sondheim.

James Lapine:

James Lapine is a playwright and director. On Broadway he has worked with Stephen Sondheim on Sunday in the Park with George; Into the Woods; and Passion. He also conceived and directed the musical revue Sondheim on Sondheim. With William Finn he created Falsettos, recently revived by Lincoln Center Theater; Little Miss Sunshine; Muscle; and directed Finn's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Other Broadway credits include his play based on Moss Hart's memoir Act One (also LCT), Amour, The Diary of Anne Frank, Golden Child, and Dirty Blonde. He has written the plays Table Settings, Twelve Dreams, The Moment When, Fran's Bed and Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing. Lapine has been nominated for eleven Tony Awards, winning on three occasions. He has also been the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, SDC's Mr. Abbott Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater, and inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

Jane Kaczmarek (Narrator):

is best known for 7 seasons on TV's Malcolm in the Middle receiving 7 consecutive Emmy Award nominations and nods for the SAG and Golden Globe Award as well. Her television career began with The Paper Chase and Hill Street Blues after graduating from the University of Wisconsin and the Yale School of Drama. In New York she has performed on Broadway and off, and for 6 seasons at the Williamstown Theatre Festival appearing in No More Shall We Part with Alfred Molina, The Roommate with S. Epatha Merkerson and Tell Me I'm Not Crazy with the late Mark Blum. In LA, Kindertransport (Ovation Award) Raised in Captivity (LA Drama Critics Award), Good People (Ovation nomination), the Stage Manager in Our Town with Deaf West Theatre at Pasadena Playhouse and again with Mr. Molina in A View From the Bridge for BBC radio and A Long Day's Journey Into Night, which was filmed and available on Broadway HD. Jane can be seen in the upcoming Apple TV limited series The Changelingwith Lakeith Stanfield. Ms. Kaczmarek's foundation, Clothes Off Our Back, raised over 4 million dollars for children's charities by auctioning celebrity apparel. She lives in Pasadena, CA with her 3 children and serves on the boards of The Pasadena Conservatory of Music, The Pasadena Educational Foundation, and Pasadena Playhouse.

Alexandra Billings (Voice of the Giant):

is an actress, singer, author, teacher and activist. Billings starred as "Madame Morrible" in the Broadway production of Wicked, the first trans actor to portray the role. She previously starred on Broadway in the Manhattan Theatre Club production of The Nap at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater. Ben Brantley of the NY Times called her performance "a sensational Broadway debut" and "a marvel of glamorous menace." Alex stars in the upcoming Amazon television series "The Peripheral." She starred in the award-winning television series "Transparent," and has been a recurring guest star on "The Conners," "Never Have I Ever," and many other television series. She stars in and is the Executive Producer of the upcoming feature film "Queen Tut." Alex performed at the 2022 Ravinia Festival in Chicago. Ms. Billings was honored to receive the Visibility Award from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). She is the recipient of five After Dark Awards and a Joseph Jefferson Award. In 2016, she moderated a panel during Transgender Awareness Month at the (Obama) White House; she won the TPA Award, The Rainbow Spirit Award, and was inducted into the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in Chicago. Her autobiographical memoir "This Time for Me" is published by Amazon Books. Billings earned her Master's Degree at CSULB. She is currently an Associate Professor of Theater at USC. She is a Viewpoints Associate at The Steppenwolf Theater.




Videos