By Judy Wakefield
---- — How is Andover’s popular music teacher and show choir director Mark Mercer spending his summer vacation?
The diehard music man who has catapulted the town’s show choirs to the national performance stage is directing a musical for a 30-year-old youth theater troupe in Lexington.
Mercer, who spends the school year as the town’s director of vocal studies, is leading Lexington Youth Summer Theatre’s staging of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” The show will be performed Thursday and Friday, July 18 and 19, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, July 20, at 1 p.m. at Grace Chapel, 29 Worthen Road, Lexington.
Mercer said he likes the character diversity in the Tony Award-winning musical, which features appearances by Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and a wicked witch.
The musical intertwines the plots of several favorite Brothers Grimm fairy tales, delving deeper to explore the consequences of the various characters’ wishes and quests. The action revolves around an underlying story involving a baker and his wife and what happens to their dreams of starting a family when they encounter a witch who puts a curse on them.
It’s somewhat familiar territory for Mercer, who has performed and directed the show many times.
This is Mercer’s third year with the nonprofit Lexington theater group. He prides himself on teaching young performers to be creative and said the show allows that philosophy to shine through.
“I really encourage kids to ... get away from the standardized, rigid world they live in,” he said in a press release. “In theater, it’s not just thinking outside the box. There is no box.”
The box-free Mercer said he’s happy to be directing a musical with writing that he called “clever and very smart.”
“It took Sondheim so much cleverness and wit to weave all these fairy tales and characters together and to teach some life lessons along the way,” he said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
In addition to Mercer’s involvement with the show, the 40-member cast of performers in grades 4 through 12 includes nine actors from Andover, with Summer Erickson in a leading role as the baker’s wife.
Other local performers are Joe Benjamin, Kerrigan Bigelow, Jeremy Brownholtz, Fallon Buonopane, Paige Gellman, Sasha Kaminsky, Stephi Knepper and Katherine Perakis. Heidi Knepper of Andover is serving as parent coordinator.
Proceeds from the production benefit children’s charities selected by the cast. A Better Chance House in Andover, which offers opportunities to academically talented minority students, was selected as one of this year’s beneficiaries.
Will Cinderella ride off with a prince and what really happens when Rapunzel lets her hair down?
See the show, Mercer said with a laugh.
For more information on the production, tickets or reservations, visit www.lexingtonyouthsummertheatre.org.