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High School Theater Draws Taft Kids 'Into The Woods' for Biggest Show Yet

NORWOOD PARK — Students at Taft High School are preparing to put on the biggest musical in the school's history with a production of "Into the Woods." 

Led by drama teacher William Skar, more than 60 students are working to make the story that weaves together several fairy tales — including "Little Red Riding Hood," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Rapunzel" and "Cinderella" — come alive for the school's spring musical.

Skar, who has twice appeared in the Tony-award winning musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, said he had been wanting to put on the Broadway favorite for several years.

"This year, I finally had a cast that could handle the material," Skar said. "They have a lot of talent."

Skar, who has been at Taft for five years, said this year's musical is the biggest yet, with 29 cast members, 20 students creating the sets and costumes and a 20-member student orchestra.

"Each year we've put on a bigger show," Skar said. "But this is by far the biggest show."

The production is also a family affair. Skar's wife, Sara, is choreographing the show and his two children, Theo, 10 months, and Emilia, 2, often come to rehearsals.

"Its good for the kids to see a family working together," Skar said.

Starting next year, Taft — which has more than 3,000 students —  will become a "wall to wall" International Baccalaureate school and offer students an academically challenging curriculum.

Skar said he was excited about the changes at Taft, which he said had totally "turned around" in the last several years.

"We want parents to be proud of the high school that is in their neighborhood," Skar said, adding that he hopes more Northwest Side parents will consider Taft over selective enrollment high schools.

According to a federal study released last year by the National Center for Education Statistics, theater instruction has declined in the nation's elementary schools — from 20 percent in the 1999-2000 school year to 4 percent a decade later. High schools fared better: about 45 percent offered theater in the most recent count — about the same as ten years earlier.

The American Alliance for Theater and Education links student participation in drama to better standardized test scores, improved reading skills, higher attendance and lower drop out rates.

"In addition to building social and communication skills overall, involvement in drama courses and performance has been shown to imporve students' self esteem as wella s their confidence in their academic abilities," the Alliance says.

Performances of "Into the Woods" will take place at 6:30 p.m. April 18, April 19, April 25 and April 26. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. For more information, email Skar at wdskar@cps.edu or call 773-534-1000, ext. 49928.