VINTON–Rehearsals are underway for the Mill Mountain Theatre (MMT) production of “Into the Woods, Jr.” The show features Savannah Amos of Vinton, William Byrd, and the Burton Center for the Performing Arts. She plays the Witch in a show which combines various fairy tale characters including Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood.
If practices are indicative of the quality of the production, stop whatever you are doing and go to www.millmountain.org/productions/woods-jr/ (or stop by the box office at Center in the Square) and get your tickets for the show which opens on July 27 and runs through August 7 with choices of evening and matinee performances.
“Into the Woods, Jr.” is family-oriented with a “happily ever after” conclusion based on the book by James Levine, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Performances are 60 minutes in length to accommodate shorter attention spans.
The 22 actors in the cast represent at least 14 middle and high schools across the region. Over 100 auditioned for the 26 roles in the play. The production is directed and choreographed by the acclaimed Anna Kimmel, Director of Education at MMT.
Savannah Amos is well-known to Vinton audiences who have been watching her perform since the age of six beginning with the William Byrd Players production of the “Sound of Music”—she played Gretl Von Trapp. She went on to take significant roles in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Annie,” and “The 1940’s Radio Hour.”
Her most recent performance in Vinton was this spring at WBHS in “The New Snow White” as Lady Anne. In between she has performed with the Roanoke Children’s Theatre in “Teen Brain the Musical,” “The Ice Cream Man,” and “Shrek the Musical.” She performed with the Burton Center for the Performing Arts in “Cinderella,” and “The Little Mermaid, Jr.” She has also been a featured vocalist at the Vinton Dogwood and Fall Festivals. She has been studying voice with Susan Lewis of the Susan Lewis Music Studio since seventh grade.
This is her debut with MMT.
She will be a senior this coming year at WBHS and Burton. After graduation Amos says she hopes to major in political science with an interest in studying law, hopefully with a double major or a minor in theater.
She says that as a young child she performed in two productions, but then lost interest until she saw “Wicked” on Broadway in seventh grade and decided she wanted to try acting again.
Amos did some research for “Into the Woods, Jr.” to help determine which role would be best for her. She felt that she was best suited to play the role of the Witch and focused on music and dialogue for that part.
Kimmel said that Amos made a good choice and clearly “just fit the role; she owned it.” She was called back and read specifically for that role and was chosen as part of the cast.
Amos says that the Witch is her most challenging role to date. The Witch is included in the Rapunzel thread of the play. In the course of the plot, she kidnaps Rapunzel and hides her away in a tower. Rapunzel is her prize possession and the Witch is the quintessential “helicopter parent.”
“The Witch is a dynamic, articulate character, multi-faceted, possibly mentally ill—but not evil,” said Amos. “She is the victim of tough circumstances in life. I can be both powerful and soft in this role, both diva and witch.”
Amos feels that all of her previous roles have prepared her for this one.
Kimmel says that Amos brings humanity to the role and that she has given her “lots of freedom in developing the character, whereas most roles are very prescribed.”
Asked whether she favors singing or acting, Amos says she loves them equally; they go together seamlessly as a package.
Kimmel says that the two are intertwined, “Savannah’s voice is so dynamic because she is a good actress–sensitivity to roles gives vibrancy to her voice.”
Amos says that she masters dialogue through endless repetition of lines. She was thrilled to be chosen for the MMT production—“a glimpse of the professional world.” She has found it to be nurturing, giving her both an educational experience in addition to learning “how the world of acting really is.”
She says she has also enjoyed MMT because “you meet kids from all over and come together to create something special that brings people so much happiness.”
The production is on a professional timeline coming together in the theater in just three weeks. No time for slacking. Amos auditioned in February, was notified she had the part in March, and received the script in late June. An additional complication was the fact that she spent several days just prior to the start of rehearsals in China on a school trip with WBHS teacher Melissa Carr and a handful of other students, participating in a cultural awareness type program.
She will be appearing in all 12 performances of “Into the Woods.” Designer Jessica Gaffney has created two costumes for Amos—one ugly (with a warty nose) and one pretty. During the course of the show she is able to “rip off the ugly to reveal the pretty when a spell is lifted and she is restored to her former beauty.”
Gaffney has an interesting background story herself. She is a drama instructor at Cape Fear Community College in North Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre from the University of Albany and a Master of Fine Arts in costume and scenery design at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
She saw the costume design position at MMT advertised online by Kimmel who was requesting submissions and accepted the job to “broaden her portfolio.” She says she loves “Into the Woods, Jr.”, needed a summer project and also wanted to add costume design in a musical to her resume. She will be leaving on July 27 when the show premieres, having created about 15 costumes, including the two for the Witch.
Kimmel says that the whole set is black and white, so the costumes bring the color to the production.
Kimmell will also be moving on at the end of “Into the Woods, Jr.” She has accepted a position with the Arkansas Repertory beginning in August—one of the state’s largest non-profit professional theatre companies.
She has managed the Conservatory program for Mill Mountain Theatre for the past three years. MMT says that Kimmel “has worked with and made a positive impact on thousands of aspiring area actors of all ages during her tenure with the organization.” Her degree in Fine Arts in Music and Theatre came from Elon University. She has performed and taught all over the country.
Amos and Kimmel both emphasize that exposing children of all ages to theatre, especially to children’s theatre broadens their world.
“It is significant and empowering for kids to see other kids on stage,” said Kimmel.
MMT brought theatre to Vinton this summer, specifically to the Vinton Library, with a free and enthusiastically received performance of “All the World’s a Stage,” Shakespeare’s life and works in 30 hilarious minutes.
“This was a gift of theatre to the community, our outreach,” said Kimmel.