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'Into the Woods' at J Stage



A Fresh Take On A Musical Theatre Classic From Exciting New Voices


By Shannon Cudd


There’s a new kid in town in the community theatre world of Orange County called JStage. Located in Irvine at the Merage Jewish Community Center of Orange County, this exciting group of artists is led by artistic director/show director Carina Morales and cultural arts assistant director/producer Nicole Rosenson. They are both equally thrilled to present their honest, fresh take on Stephen Sondheim’s classic, “Into the Woods.”


JStage evolved out of a children’s theatre program led by Morales since 2018. It was always Rosenson’s long-term vision to create a community theater program at the center because she saw the need. In 2022, the program expanded to offer community shows in which adults could participate. The programs are open to everyone in the Southern California community.


“Into the Woods” will be the fourth adult show produced by this company. Morales has always loved it and wanted to explore “the true nature of the notion of goodness.” Rosenson saw Morales’ strong point of view and agreed. As a producer, Rosenson believes in hiring talented people, arming them with the correct tools, and letting them do their thing. Morales believes that "there is less that separates heroes from villains than we'd comfortably like to believe, and that life exists in many shades, not just black and white." She says that "examining the notion of goodness itself, we are left to realize that it is up to us to decide what is truly good, as opposed to simply polite, self-serving, or socially acceptable.”

From left: Mabel Schreffler, Haven Hanson, Claire Manson, Ron Gutterman, Abigail Kinnahan, Emily Cintron

This thesis is visually represented in this production by Haven Hanson’s scenic and costume designs. Hanson wears many hats and will also tackle the role of Jack. His sets, which appear as black lines sketched onto plain looking parchment paper, allow the brightly colored costumes wrong by the characters to pop, affecting the world around them and not the other way around. 


The costumes also represent familial relationships. Each family has its own color or should. When they do not match, you know there is tension.


“Into the Woods” intertwines some of our favorite fairy book characters. At the center of it all are the Baker and his wife, who do not come from any one specific children’s story but are instead original to this tale. The Baker and his wife want to have a child of their own so they strike a bargain with their magical neighbor, the Witch, setting a series of events in motion that will change not only their stories but the larger narrative of the whole kingdom.


Morales believes the woods represent “the ‘woulds,’ the endless possibilities of what might be ours, and the inevitable challenges of life that present us with never ending learning opportunities.” Rosenson believes when you go into the woods you are facing “the unknown.” Life presents everyone with lots of twists and turns along the way and does not provide any kind of road map or GPS.


There’s no right way to cope with infertility, death, or absent fathers. Princes might not always be the love of your life. Bad guys are just people who have experienced trauma, lashing out in their hurt and anger.


“I don't know that I would pinpoint a villain in the show because part of the message is that so much is in shades of gray. When you take a closer look at people we perceive as villains, like the witch or the giant, you need to look at the mitigating circumstances surrounding them,” Morales muses. The witch is not a monster but a woman trying to protect her daughter and get back her stolen beans. The giant is avenging the death of her husband. 


From left: Esther Chun, Haven Hanson, Jiana-Marie Perez

At the end of the day, we are all people doing the best we can. Morales believes there is power in community. “We're always at our best when we're able to look beyond ourselves enough to truly band together,” she muses. This is what helps the characters solve their problems in the end. She wants to remind audiences with this production that there is kindness and goodness in the world. No one is alone. People need to take the time to look deeper at the humanity inside another being. Morales' mission expands even beyond the woods.


Morales' goal for JStage is to “create a welcoming space for artists of all levels to express themselves.” She strongly believes in “open access to the arts and in the value of creative education.” She is excited to “create access to high-quality theatre for people to see right in their own community.” This production is just the beginning.


Rosenson believes audiences are going to be “wowed” by it. “They are going to walk away feeling like they learned something. They’re going to be excited to see an emotionally honest production with very specific storytelling that I feel stands apart from typical productions of ‘Into the Woods’.”


Shannon Cudd is a writer, actor, and theatre lover in Orange County, California. 


“Into the Woods”

J Stage

1 Federation Way Irvine, CA

April 20 - 28, 2024



From left: Mabel Schreffler, Sophie Sonntag

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