Young Footliters coming through the woods

BY DAN WATSON | MARCH 5, 2009 7:19 AM

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Rehearsals may need adult supervision, but the young actors performing in this weekend’s show, Into the Woods, are seasoned veterans in the acting world.

The Young Footliters Act 2 Teen Theatre will put on its interpretation of the James Lapine book Into the Woods at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Friday through March 8.

Young Footliters, an Iowa City area theater group, comprises students ranging from kindergartners to high-school seniors. Into the Woods is an Act 2 production that cast older actors in the troupe — grades seven through 12. Actors in the musical come from around eastern Iowa, including Anamosa, West Branch, and Iowa City.

The group is a nonprofit, parent-run organization that puts on around five different productions each year. Parents are responsible for making costumes, building sets, hiring a director, and supervising rehearsals.

Becky Dagle, a parent manager of Young Footliters, said Into the Woods is a difficult play for the youngsters to master because they are used to performing well-known plays.

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“We usually do shows that the kids would have some familiarity with,” she said. “This show is unique because it teaches the kids things they weren’t prepared for.”

Some of the play’s challenges include tricky musical numbers, several solo songs, and a large cast. Around 60 actors auditioned for roles in Into the Woods, but only 27 made the cut.

“I’m a big fan of this production,” said Nancy Macfarlane, the play’s vocal coach. “I’m surprised at how talented this kids are; the vocals are extremely difficult, and I would have thought the production too challenging for them, but that’s not the case.

Into the Woods tells a unique tale by combining many Brothers Grimm fairy tales, most prominently “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstock,” and “Rapunzel.” The magical story is centered on wishes and their consequences, told primarily through the eyes of a baker and his wife. It can be summed up as a “fractured fairy tale,” said parent manager Ann Marie Buatti.

The cast of Into the Woods has practiced in an open store space in Sycamore Mall, and rehearsals proved quite demanding.

Longtime Young Footliter actor Sam Buatti, who plays the baker in the production, said the rewards of performing with the group outweigh the demands. This weekend’s production is Buatti’s sixth performance with the group, and he said he always looks forward to performing because of the friends he meets.

Elizabeth Dagle, who plays the baker’s wife, has performed in 18 plays with Young Footliters, and she will sing her first solo song in Into the Woods.

“At times, rehearsal for the musical can get overwhelming,” she said. “But in the end, it is worth it. I meet so many people through these plays — we become a family.”

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