With the suit settled, the show can go on
News & Notes
On the horizon: Sweeney in Chicago, Night Music in N.Y
Into the Woods
Before Broadway, the revival opens in L.A.
A critic’s commentary on the show
What other critics thought about the show
Five cast members talk about what the show means to them
For the designer, the woods are a metaphor for life
Costumes were designed for the inner animal
The score enchants because of its simplicity
A photo album of Woods from the past
Assassins still resonates with audiences
Leslie Uggams is The Witch again, this time in Houston
A bloody Sweeney in Germany
A London revue looks at Sondheim’s songs for women
Kennedy Center Celebration
More cast announcements as the celebration nears
Lectures prepare the audiences for the shows
Raul Esparza will be both George and Charley
John Barrowman talks about Robert
Do I Hear a Waltz? as described in the new Rodgers biography
Charmain Carr remembers Evening Primrose
Barbara Cook’s beguiling concert; the new Waltz CD
For Your Amusement
A Sondheim puzzle inspires a replica
Upcoming Sondheim shows in the U.S. and elsewhere
‘It’s like lace work or crochet. It’s magical.’
Before cast members of the Into the Woods revival moved to Los Angeles for the pre-Broadway tryout, they rehearsed in New York at the legendary 890 Broadway building, the birthplace for many shows. One brisk afternoon, five cast members gathered in a room filled with mirrors to discuss the show with The Sondheim Review’s editor, Paul Salsini, and associate editor, Sean Patrick Flahaven.
It was a diverse group. Pamela Myers had been in the original cast of Company and in regional productions of Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George and Gypsy. She plays the Stepmother and Granny and is the understudy for Jack’s Mother. Meanwhile, Molly Ephraim is making her Broadway debut at 15, playing Little Red Ridinghood, a role she played in Philadelphia in 2000. Also making his Broadway debut is 17-year-old Adam Wylie as Jack; he has done several TV shows, including Picket Fences.
And then there were the two stepsisters, Amanda Naughton (Lucinda), who was in The Secret Garden, and Tracy Nicole Chapman (Florinda), who was in The Lion King and The Music Man.
TSR: What has surprised you the most in the show and the score?
Adam Wylie: The thing that surprised me the most is that everyone says, “Oh, you’re doing Sondheim. Isn’t that going to be so difficult?” But we’re working with such a great cast and such a great group of people, so it’s not as complex as everyone makes it out to be. I mean, it’s still complex, but we’ve gotten to the point where we’re having fun with it. And there are certain things that are getting us to where we need to be, certain little tricks.
Tracy Nicole Chapman: I think it’s the way Sondheim writes. It’s classical-based, rather than musical -theatre-based, and it’s very different from traditional musical theatre. He pulls notes out of everywhere. It’s challenging, at least for me. I really have to concentrate.
Molly Ephraim: It helps that I’ve done the role before. It’s a really exciting score. Once you get into it, it’s amazing.
Amanda Naughton: It was a little overwhelming at first because it’s so intricate. But now that I’ve lived with the counting and learned the rhythm of the show–I mean some segments we repeat. But the lyrics don’t repeat! So I’m hearing it in my sleep now. But the first couple of days, it was stressful.
Pamela Myers: The first time you do it, it’s really hard, and you’re counting all the time. It’s usually when you repeat a role or when you’re in a long run that you can relax into it.
TSR (to Myers): Have you found any similarities between this and your other Sondheim roles?
Myers: There are a lot of similarities. The songs usually have canons in them, rounds, and the characters have their motifs. I think some of this here is harder than some of the other Sondheim songs I’ve had to learn. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I came into it at the last minute. I mean, I saw Into the Woods years ago when they were first doing it, but it’s not an album that I’ve listened to a lot. So I was familiar with it. I knew “Agony,” but, hey, that’s not my song.
Naughton: Most people have their solos, but so much of this show is groups of people singing together- -the entire ensemble, or groups of people–so it’s relying on each other, understanding what each of us is supposed to be doing.
Myers: In Company, we first sat down and starting learning the opening number in a room like this, and I think for eight hours we sat there and learned two pages of music. That’s as far as we got. I mean, “Bobby, Bobby, count, count, count–” It was not that quick.
Chapman: Today I heard something I’ve never heard before. I mean, weeks later, and you hear things.
Naughton: And you never forget it either. I loved the first week of rehearsals. I realized how different this show is. It’s like lace work, lace or crochet or something. You keep hearing things. I remember watching the original and the way it worked together. It’s magical.
Wylie: I think it’s so amazing that in one song you get everybody’s story. Not just one person’s story but everyone’s. And everything is so precise!
Ephraim: I think in other musicals, a lot of songs don’t get you from here to there. But in Into the Woods, the songs get you from Point A to Point B. You’re not only telling the story, but the songs are moving progressively through the story.
TSR: Is there, pardon the expression, a particular moment in the woods that resonates with you, either in the show or in your character?
Chapman: There are so many. Personally, there’s a lyric that says that you have to act, not just wish but act as well. Sometimes I’m fearful of doing things, but you never know something if you don’t try.
Wylie: The biggest one for me is in my song, which I’m very fortunate to have, and there’s this line:
The roof, the house, and your mother at the door.
The roof, the house, and the world you never thought to explore.
And you think of all of the things you’ve seen,
And you wish that you could live in between.
It’s so true. Sometimes we long for something that’s completely different from what’s in front of our faces all along. It’s very true for me.
Naughton: I remember seeing it for the first time, and one of my favorite lyrics has been “the woods are just trees/the trees are just wood.” Because I’m kind of a ‘fraidy cat. I’m afraid of the dark, I like to leave a light on in the hallway. And this is about venturing out and taking chances. Whatever happens, at least something’s happening. You haven’t stayed indoors. I like those things very much. But there’s something that happens in the show. I get very emotional about the fact that The Baker’s Wife dies. That kills me. I can’t even think about it. I mean she has to die, but that fact that she does just as she discovers everything, it just kills me. So when she comes on in the end, I can’t even watch it. She comes in and speaks to The Baker, “No one is alone. Sometimes people leave you in the woods.” That whole theme, the fact that she dies and The Baker has to keep on, and this character who he loved so much and didn’t really do any harm to anybody except being feisty, she dies!
TSR: Well, she had an affair.
Naughton: But she learned from it! And just at the moment when she realizes she wants to live that other life, she gets killed!
Ephraim: I think if you asked anyone who hasn’t seen the show if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound, most people would say no. But if you’re looking at this show, definitely. I think the woods exist in terms of that, to see these people whose lives get screwed up and how they are affected by other people’s decisions. It’s really interesting for a musical to be based on decisions like that.
Myers: I think it’s that we are all connected and there’s a higher force somewhere. I don’t know exactly what is meant by “no one is alone,” but you need to have another human being in your realm, and everything you do affects another person. Somehow we are all connected, and there’s a force bigger than we are that we have to deal with, whether it’s evil or good. We have a responsibility for one another.
TSR: Is that idea more relevant now than before Sept. 11?
Myers: It’s crossed my mind, especially with the giant.
Chapman: We’re a community or family, We’re coming together.
Ephraim: In the second act, the finale is a song about rebuilding.
Naughton: The positive will always replace the negative. But the giant had a legitimate reason for being angry. Her husband was killed. It’s just that we can’t reason with her on her terms. One false move could obliterate us, and that is evil. Bad guys are threatening the world right now, but they play by their rules. Our reasoning is not their reasoning, and they’re not afraid of death in order to do something for their cause. I see something like that in our dealing with the giant.
Wylie: For me, the giant is every little thing they do built up to something greater. Eventually they have to deal with what they’ve done. It’s coming to terms with having to fix what was wrong because of what they’ve done.
Ephraim: I was trying to put in perspective what it would be like walking in the giant’s forty-foot footsteps, and Kerry O’Malley, who plays The Baker’s Wife, said, “Have you been to ground zero? That’s what it’s like.” That put it in perspective. It’s unfortunate that we think of it that way, but it is so similar.
TSR: What have you discovered for yourself in the show?
Wylie: So many little things. It’s hard to catch them the first time. So many things represent other things. You have to sit down with the show, look at it in detail.
Naughton: I enjoy our cast very much, and now that we’re on our feet and off-book, it’s been great, it’s really great.
Chapman: And some of it is so funny. It cracks me up.
Naughton: There’s such a variety to all the characters. We see the good and the greedy and the other sides. Cinderella has a lot of facets to her. And even those of us in the stepfamily have our moments of goodness. It doesn’t step away from the darkness, from things that are gruesome or harsh, and yet it keeps a lot of the beloved fairy tales.
TSR: Do you find that Act Two is separate, or perhaps a mirror image of Act One?
Wylie: Act One really leads up to Act Two. It’s almost as though you see it coming, but you don’t. I think the first is so important to the second act, and the second is important to the first. It’s real life, it’s what happened.
Ephraim: In Philadelphia, people said the first act is really great but they could do without the second. But they are directly connected. People don’t want to see what happens.
TSR: They just want to see the musical comedy first act.
Myers: Well, Company was the same thing. They couldn’t find the right ending. And think of the lyrics of “Being Alive”: “Someone to hold you too close.” With the good comes the bad. Instead of not having any relationship, have one that you have to work with, good or bad. People really didn’t want to hear that in 1970.