by Savannah Evanoff

Red Riding Hood, played by Azhia Ellis, is menaced by the Wolf, played by Parissh Phillips in Fort Walton Beach High School's production of Stephen Sondheim's musical "Into the Woods." The show runs April 20-23 in the school's auditorium. [DEVON RAVINE|DAILY NEWS]
Red Riding Hood, played by Azhia Ellis, is menaced by the Wolf, played by Parissh Phillips in Fort Walton Beach High School’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods.” The show runs April 20-23 in the school’s auditorium. [DEVON RAVINE|DAILY NEWS]
Not every fairy tale has a happy ending.

The Fort Walton Beach High School theater department will present what happens after “happily ever after” with the musical production “Into the Woods.” Stephen Sondheim’s musical-turned-movie features familiar characters such as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk.

Christa Whittaker, the director, said in the first half, the audience will get what it wants. In the second half, it abandons the traditional notion of a fairy tale with death and character destruction.

“It’s all of the iconic fairy tales, and Sondheim kind of puts that on its edge and looks some of these ridiculous expectations in the face and says, ‘If this really happened, how would you handle it?’” Whittaker said. “It’s basically what happens when you get what you wish for. You probably should be content with what you have.”

The high school will present the family-friendly show at 7 p.m. April 19-21 and at 2 p.m. April 23 in the Fort Walton Beach High School auditorium, 400 Hollywood Boulevard, Fort Walton Beach.

Tickets are $10 in advance at the school office and at P.S. Gifts in Fort Walton Beach, and $15 at the door. To purchase tickets, call the theater office at 833-3300, ext. 1819.

“Into the Woods” delves into whether means justify the ends and who is “really evil,” Whittaker said.

One of Whittaker’s favorite lines is when Prince Charming says, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere,” she said. The prince treats women as conquests, she said.

“It’s a really great study in human behavior,” Whittaker said. “No matter what we do, every action, just like in physics, has an equal and opposite reaction.”

The musical was written during the height of the AIDS crisis, and the message applies today, Whittaker said. In the song “Your Fault,” characters blame each other for things, she said.

“The message is so timely,” Whittaker said. “If you look at the way our government right now is so divided, and everybody else is pointing fingers at everybody else.”

Although Whittaker helped with the Northwest Florida State College’s “Into the Woods” production 10 years ago, she has avoided Sondheim productions at the high school until now, she said. The music and diction are challenging, Whittaker said, referencing a tongue-twisting verse delivered rapidly in the show.

“You may know what you want, but to get what you need better see that you keep what you have,” Whittaker said. “It’s really good practice for young actors, because they can’t zone out at all.”

A group of seniors wanted to perform “Into the Woods,” so Whittaker gave in, she said. Melody Murray, who will portray the Witch, is one of those students.

“The characters are all very fairy tale archetypes,” Murray said. “(The Witch) is the one who gets to be mean. She gets to be snarky. She gets to be sassy. And the costume for her character is amazing.”

Murray’s costume is one of many elaborate ensembles the high school borrowed from the college production, Whittaker said. Fashion guru and high school senior, Voung Nguyen, designed some of the rest.

Murray’s costume features a heavy cape in which she will “play with fire,” Murray said with a laugh. Murray is her character’s pyrotechnics manager, as she will shoot fireballs and puffs of smoke during the performance, she said.

“It took me a little bit to learn, but I think I’ve got the hang of it now,” Murray said. “Hopefully nobody bursts into flames.”

Many family members will attend Murray’s final performance at the high school. She hopes to major in musical theater in college, she said.

“I think this is a great show to leave on,” Murray said.

Like Murray, Abigail Morgan enjoys her role of Cinderella. The junior said the character is tougher than the Disney-princess version.

“I think it sends an empowering message to girls,” Morgan said. “You are worthwhile. (Cinderella) has to build up that confidence.”

The musical is different from the movie version in that it is longer with more music, Morgan said. Morgan now understands why Whittaker avoided Sondheim’s productions.

“Cinderella has one of the highest ranges in the cast,” Morgan said. “The rhythms are definitely very challenging.”

If you haven’t seen the movie or the musical, it might shock you, Morgan said. Before auditions, Morgan watched it, and it wasn’t what she expected, she said.

“I love the whole fairy tale aspect of it, but I also love that it’s anti-fairy tale in the end,” Morgan said. “We get to see what happens after the happily ever after. We get to see what happens after the story is over.”