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Siblings go 'Into the Woods' at the Arsht Center

"Into the Woods," which recently made it to the big screen as a hit holiday movie, will return to the stage Jan. 22 through Feb. 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.

The Stephen Sondheim musical is the inaugural production of DreamCatcher Theatre, a new company led by sister-and-brother team Natalie and J.J. Caruncho. Both are Miami natives (born in Hialeah) who now live in New York (she downtown, he uptown).

"About a year ago, my brother and I were sitting around talking about producing pieces of theater and where we would like to do that," Natalie recalls. "It was a no-brainer to come back down to Miami. We just feel like this a great place."

J.J., who attended Gulliver Preparatory School along with his sister before graduating from Miami Palmetto Senior High, says, "There's such a great art scene down here. There are so many companies … doing well. There are more high school theater programs than anywhere in the country.

"I've been in New York the last eight years, and I think there statistically more Florida actors here than from anywhere else," he continues. "And it's funny, New York actors think of [working] in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, but since the Coconut Grove Playhouse shut down, they don't think of Miami."

Natalie adds, "We thought we could be part of that conversation. We really wanted to come home and tell the story here. To not only bring New York talent to Miami … but to investigate the talent in Miami. But most of all, we just wanted to do it here."

DreamCatcher is bringing Broadway's Tituss Burgess ("Jersey Boys," "The Little Mermaid" and TV's "30 Rock") down for the role of the Witch, a part made famous onstage by Tony winner Bernadette Peters and on film by Oscar nominee Meryl Streep. Burgess' casting choice had to be approved by Sondheim and the show's book writer James Lapine. Arielle Jacobs ("In the Heights," "Disney's High School Musical") is also making the trip from the Great White Way.

"Into the Woods" takes place in the fairy-tale kingdom of the Brothers Grimm, where a baker (J.J. Caruncho) and his wife (Jacobs) are sent on a quest into the woods by a mysterious witch (Burgess). They find their story intertwined with Cinderella (Annemarie Rosano), Little Red Riding Hood (Magan Dee Yantko) and Jack (Bruno Vida), who happens to have some magical beans.

"The big moral is be careful of the things you say, because they matter," Natalie says. "There are consequences to the things you say."

The Carunchos are mindful of the marketing push the movie version has given them. "It's a happy accident," Natalie says. "We think it's great that 'Into the Woods' is in the air."

And the name DreamCatcher? Their Aunt Christie suggested it in 2007, when J.J. and Natalie were struggling to come up with a name for their theater company.

"I looked over and said, 'I think you just got it," J.J. recalls. "I used to have a lot of nightmares when I was a kid. My mother bought me [a dream catcher] and said, 'This will help.' I still have one above my bed in New York City. The idea is that the bad dreams get stuck in the web and the good dreams come down to you through the feathers. In the light of day, the light hits them stuck in the web, and the bad dreams are destroyed. It wasn't about hiding the bad dream. It's putting them in front of your face. But with the wind blowing on them and the light, maybe they are less scary than you think."

Natalie adds, "We gather actors and audiences together, and we turn the lights down, and we tell them this dream. And in that experience, they are able to confront everything. They take the good dreams with them and remember the bad dreams. But once the lights are turned back on, they are maybe a little more brave. It's a beautiful image that we are trying very hard to honor."

"Into the Woods" will run Jan. 22 through Feb. 15 in the Carnival Studio Theater of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., in Miami. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, with 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost $50. To order, call 305-949-6722 or go to ArshtCenter.org.

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