‘Into the Woods Jr.’ Opens March 7
Arts & CultureLocal

‘Into the Woods Jr.’ Opens March 7

Jerry’s Habima Theatre will perform the popular Broadway show at the MJCCA from March 7-17.

(From left) Katie Rouille as Baker’s Wife and Cynthia Outman as Cinderella
(From left) Katie Rouille as Baker’s Wife and Cynthia Outman as Cinderella

Jerry’s Habima Theatre at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA) has been inspiring audiences for 31 years with performances featuring actors with disabilities who defy stereotypes while creating memorable theater experiences for audiences. This year, Stephen Sondheim’s, “Into the Woods Jr.,” will be presented, with performances running from March 7-17.

The theatre group is Georgia’s only professional theater company featuring actors with special needs who perform alongside professional actors. Professional directors, choreographers, staging managers, lighting consultants, costumers, and sound engineers work with the company during each production to create immersive Broadway-style experiences.

“We’ve created a vibrant community where actors with special needs showcase their talents, build lifelong skills, and forge lasting friendships,” said Founding Artistic Producer Kim Goodfriend. “With about 90 percent of our actors returning each year and performances selling out, it’s clear that our program resonates deeply within the community. The MJCCA’s commitment to this program underlines the significance of what we offer — an inclusive space where actors and audiences alike can explore and celebrate the richness of human experience through theater.”

(From left, back row) Luke Davis (Baker), Molly Drumm (Little Red Riding Hood); (from left, front row) Katie Rouille (Baker’s Wife), Cynthia Outman (Cinderella), Sean Wyatt (Jack)

The upcoming production of “Into the Woods Jr.” reimagines Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical, weaving an enchanting yarn where the realms of fairytales and reality merge. This youthful adaptation focuses on a baker and his wife, cursed to childlessness by a witch, whose destinies intertwine with those of iconic characters like Cinderella, yearning to attend the king’s festival, and Jack, hoping for his cow to produce milk. As these characters embark on a journey through the mystical woods, they confront the complex consequences of their wishes and desires, learning vital lessons about responsibility and the intricate nature of dreams.

The show’s narrator, Michelle Cristal, has participated in the troupe’s productions for 15 years and her roles have become larger as her acting experience has grown.

“I have known most of the people in the show for many years, and we have become good friends. There’s a lot of work that goes into each show and it can be hard, but it’s all worth it in the end,” she said.

Michelle’s mother, Marilyn Franco Cristal, has accumulated many special memories over the years, seeing the productions expand in scope, bonding with the parents of the other cast members, and watching the sheer joy of the actors as they appear on stage.

“Michelle told me once that some people think the special needs community can’t do much, but by being in these shows they prove they can do whatever they set their minds to. I am very proud of all these actors have accomplished and can’t wait to see the show. I am always moved seeing everyone as they perform on stage,” she said.

Alex Dunay (right) during his first season as part of Jerry’s Habima Theatre in last year’s production of “Cinderella.”

Alex Dunay will return this year for his second production with the company. He first appeared in last year’s production of “Cinderella.” According to his mother, Lizette Dunay, he has wanted to participate in the shows for years.

“Alex had been waiting to turn 18 so he could be in one of the productions. Unfortunately, COVID hit at that time, postponing any plans, and he was finally able to realize what had been his ‘dream’ last year. Everyone involved has been so supportive, kind and nurturing. He loves theater and is so proud to be part of this group,” she shared.

Cast members rehearse eight weeks in advance of each show, with two additional weeks dedicated to tech rehearsals. During this two-week period, elements such as lighting, sound, and costumes are layered in, one at a time, for the production. Each Monday through Thursday, from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., cast members eagerly arrive at the MJCCA for scheduled rehearsals.

Honest feedback is given to all of the actors, who are frequently asked to slow down their delivery of lines or change the staging. Each production takes into account the specific needs of each actor, such as accommodation for the use of a wheelchair or walker. Whatever the need, Jerry’s Habima Theatre delivers! In fact, there is even an occupational therapist who works with the show’s actors and is responsible for leveraging the special talents that each person brings to the production.

“Today more of our actors with special needs are the leads in the shows. The times have changed, and many of these same people hold jobs, graduated from high school, participate in the community, and feel more comfortable performing. Also, technology got smarter, and there are devices we can use that help support actors as needed,” said Goodfriend.

The shows, beloved by the community, frequently sell out in advance of the productions. This year’s production is no exception. A limited number of tickets are currently available for selected shows and can be purchased by going to https://www.atlantajcc.org/our-programs/special-needs/jerrys-habima-theatre/.

Specific dates and times will be listed on the website.

read more: