Joan Deamer has been directing children's plays for more than two decades, leading generations of Mill Valley Middle School students to discover the power of the theater. But although she's tackled scores of musicals over the years, there has been one in particular she'd always wanted to direct: Into the Woods. She seized that chance this summer with the Marin Youth Performers' production of Into the Woods, which premieres this weekend at 142 Throckmorton Theatre.
Deamer first saw Into the Woods at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland years ago with her brother and was hooked. Stephen Sondheim's famed musical weaves a host of famous fairy tales into an irreverent story that delves into serious issues like community responsibility and consequences of our actions.
"I always knew that I needed a highly skilled group to pull it off because Stephen Sondheim is quite complex," said Deamer. "It has a lot of meaning and it's funny. Now we've got this great cast of young performers. It has been delightful."
Deamer is both benefiting from and responsible for much of the talent she gets to work with on this production. Many of the performers were her students at the middle school and have only deepened their ties to the theater since studying under her. That includes Ivy Ryan, now a junior at Tam High and playing the role of the Baker's Wife in Into the Woods.
"Doing this was a no-brainer," Ryan said. "I didn't know the play that well at first but watched some clips of Joanna Gleason's portrayal (in the original Broadway run) and really got into this character, who can be hammy but underlying that is a real genuine human being."
Into the Woods is the first summer production for Marin Youth Performers, which launched two years ago and is a rarity among full-scale theatrical productions in that it is comprised entirely of 14 to 20 year-olds, from cast and orchestra to stage, lights, costume, hair and makeup. All but one of the 35-member cast, crew and orchestra of Into the Woods is a high school student, and nearly all are from Mill Valley.
"It's been incredible to work with these students as they have matured and gotten even more wonderful," she said. "Many of them have really blossomed and are just amazing now."
Deamer, now the drama teacher at San Rafael High School, brought with her the creative team she has worked with for years at the middle school, including choreographer June Cooperman and musical directors Jessica Stewart and Nora Thomas.
Deamer and many of the cast and crew credit Adam Saville, the director of the Throckmorton's youth program, with turning it into such a burgeoning force in Marin in just two years.
"It's definitely one of the greatest community theaters in Marin," said Julia Smith, a junior at the Branson School who plays the Witch in Into the Woods. "The program is so well run, and Adam Saville is just fabulous."
Into the Woods premieres this Friday and Saturday, August 27 and 28, and again Sept. 3 and 4, at 7:30pm. It is also showing Sun, Aug. 29 and Sept. 5 at 2pm. Tickets are $18 General Admission, $14 Students, $30 Reserved Seating and can be purchased by calling the box office at 415.383.9600 or via the Throckmorton's Web site.