by Rita Charleston
“Careful what you wish for” might well be the theme of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s classic musical, “Into The Woods.” (The show is about a childless baker and his wife and their wish to begin a family, but that leads them to an interaction with a witch who has placed a curse on them.) The show kicks off Theatre Horizon’s 2015 season on Feb.12, and the production runs through March 1 at the theater on 401 DeKalb St. in Norristown.
But for Kayla Moses Baxter, who considers Mt. Airy her hometown, getting what she wished for is what life is all about. Moving to Mt. Airy from Virginia at the age of 8, Baxter spent most of her life here and says she always knew she wanted to be a performer. And thanks to the advice given her mother by poet Sonia Sanchez, whom they met at a performance at the Uptown Theater, her mother enrolled 10-year-old Baxter in classes at Freedom Theater.
“Those days were a lot of fun,” says Baxter, who now makes her home in West Philly. “I took acting, singing and dancing lessons there. But they also taught us life skills, building positive self-esteem in us to ensure we could accomplish our goals.”
Baxter says she not only trained at Freedom Theater as a youngster, but the acting coaches there also trained her how to teach others. Eventually she became a teacher’s assistant and taught at Freedom Theater herself for 10 years. Her other education included graduating from Franklin Learning Center, Temple University and the University of Arizona.
Over the years, Baxter, who asked that her age not be mentioned, has done much in the way of performing. She has acted at many local venues, including the Arden Theatre, Wilma Theater, Philadelphia Theatre Company and others, and has done some film and TV work. She is a Barrymore nominated actress, and she hosts a Monday night gospel radio show with her husband, Juan Baxter, whom she met at Freedom Theatre 12 years ago.
The mother of two girls, ages 9 and 10, who attend a school in North Philadelphia, she teaches art at her children’s school and acts as a life skills workshop facilitator. She says that her husband and family’s support allows her to take on so many roles.
Of course, the role she’s really enjoying now is playing Jack’s mother and Cinderella’s stepmother in “Into The Woods.” According to director Matthew Decker, “At its core, this is a play about fairy tales and how we tell stories. So the concept of our production lies in the way that fairy tales were originally told — by people around a fireside as a way to escape the tedium of their chores. So we’ve decided to take that idea one step further and reinvent this production around this incredible ensemble of actors.”
And Baxter is quick to thank Decker for his trust and enthusiasm with the cast. She says, “I love being on the stage with all these creative people and the fact that our director allows us to share our ideas with him. If he thinks they have merit, then he says, ‘OK, let’s do it your way.’ It’s wonderful to be part of the creative process, and he makes that all possible.”
Baxter says she is so happy her life has turned out this way and totally loves being on the stage. “I know this is a gift I’ve been blessed with, and it brings me a great deal of joy. It especially makes me happy when I think I’m inspiring others by letting them see that if my dreams came true, maybe theirs will as well.”
For “Into The Woods” ticket information, call 610-283-2230.