Original Into the Woods Cast Recall Untold Stories, Backstage Memories and Standouts With Sondheim

News   Bernadette Peters and Original Into the Woods Cast Recall Untold Stories, Backstage Memories and Standouts With Sondheim In anticipation of the upcoming release of the long-awaited Disney screen adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical Into the Woods, Playbill.com reached out to the cast of the original Broadway production, who shared their memories from rehearsals to performance, including the creation of "No One Is Alone," candid backstage stories and standout moments with Stephen Sondheim.

Danielle Ferland, Ben Wright, Kim Crosby, Chip Zien and Bernadette Peters in <i>Into the Woods</i>
Danielle Ferland, Ben Wright, Kim Crosby, Chip Zien and Bernadette Peters in Into the Woods Photo by Martha Swope
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Into the Woods features a Tony-winning score by Sondheim and Tony-winning book by James Lapine, who staged the musical's 1987 Broadway premiere at the Martin Beck Theatre. Playbill.com caught up with members of the original cast including Bernadette Peters, Chip Zien, Joanna Gleason, Kim Crosby and Robert Westenberg and more, who shared stories about their personal experiences in that landmark production, which lives on thanks to a live taping of the original staging, which was broadcast on PBS' American Playhouse in 1991. It will be released on Blu-ray Dec. 2.

In addition to the tales of on-stage mishaps, backstage stories, last-minute rewrites and stories of Sondheim, the cast also shared memories of late cast member Tom Aldredge, who created the role of the Narrator/Mysterious Man.

Click through to go back Into the Woods:

Jeff Blumenkrantz
Jeff Blumenkrantz

Jeff Blumenkrantz, Understudy for Jack, Steward and Rapunzel's Prince

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memory:
During previews, there was a rehearsal where "The Last Midnight" was to be staged for the first time. Ben Wright was unavailable, so I was playing Jack. The choreographer, Lar Lubovitch, had worked out some specific, somewhat busy staging for Bernadette Peters' first stanza, and as he gave her this staging, she said something to the effect of, "What if I just stood still for this part of the song?" He said something to the effect of, "I'd like you to do my staging." And she said, "I just think keeping still would be a really powerful way to start this song," and he said, "I'd like to see my original staging."

Now, 22-year old me thought: A) She's absolutely right - why aren't you listening to her? B) That's Bernadette Peters you're not collaborating with!? and C) She's about to give you a proper diva torching. And that's exactly what didn't happen. What happened was: Bernadette proceeded to execute his staging without argument for the length of that rehearsal. Granted, the next time we revisited that song, there was completely new staging, but I'll never forget how gracefully and generously she handled it in the moment. What a pro.

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
During previews, Steve put a note on the callboard expressing his dissatisfaction with a certain couplet in the "Agony" reprise and requesting suggestions for an improved couplet. Fledgling songwriter that I was, I labored over those lines for days. But what was I thinking? It's Stephen Sondheim. It never gets any better than that!

Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
"If the end is right, it justifies the beans." Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
I'd say that being in Into the Woods at the tender age of 22 definitely spoiled me. It's exquisitely written, it was filled with a cast of the most exceptional players, and it's a piece that entertains but also has something to say. That's what I've wanted/expected/hoped for from every subsequent theatre experience...

Remembering Tom Aldredge:
What a classy, classy guy, not to mention kind and super-talented. It's funny, I picture Tom always lying on his back on the floor. He was dealing with back pain issues during that run, and that position was the most comfortable for him...

Maureen Davis
Maureen Davis

Maureen Davis, Sleeping Beauty

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memory:
One night, Little Red (Danielle Ferland) broke her foot ice skating; Snow White (Jean Kelly) was already onstage for a vacationing Rapunzel (Pamela Winslow), so I needed to not only play the stunt witch for Bernadette but ALSO Little Red! The hair/make-up people as well as dressers stood by for my quick changes, and in one scene I had 30 seconds to change my voice/hair/costume (head to toe). I went directly from the witch transformation to a scene with Jack (Ben Wright), got my laugh, and exited stage left to whispers of "brava diva" from my hair guy, Dale.

One more memory... One of the special effects broke and we had to stop the show to fix it. Dick Cavett was the narrator and he started to tap dance and take questions from the audience. It was priceless.

Rehearsal Memory:
In rehearsals, Paul Ford always had theme songs for us as we walked in. Mine was always a Menudo song... OMG. It's still funny to me today. Paul Gemignani always said "Hey, Ugly" since I was Bernadette "as" the ugly witch four minutes a night. Too funny.

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
Sondheim was napping in the aisles in the balcony. I went up to watch scenes I was not in. I tripped over him and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry. Mr. Sondheim, I'm your Sleeping Beauty," to which he replied, "I'm sure you are." Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
There was a jazz waltz cut in previews called "Boom Crunch" that I thought was especially clever. Much of that song became "Last Midnight," but I think the song that always touched me the most was "No One Is Alone." I don't think I can pick just one lyric - they are all pretty amazing.

Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
OMG - to think that someone thought I was talented enough or worthy enough to be on Broadway. But truly, the show had so many life-lesson messages... Most notably that event though everything you wish for comes with a price, take that chance and wish for it anyway.

Remembering Tom Aldredge:
I so very much loved Tom. He always made sure I understood there were no small parts, only small actors (and at 5'2" he loved that joke). We shared fruit cups and fatherly chats at the diner across from the Martin Beck Theatre. And when I did get to go on as a lead character, Tom was my head cheerleader! Amazing man.

Danielle Ferland
Danielle Ferland

Danielle Ferland, Little Red Riding Hood

Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
"Isn't it nice to know a lot? And a little bit... Not."

Growing up in the business, I loved the freedom of being a child actor and how blissfully unaware I was of all of the politics. I look back on that time, at how innocent I was, with nostalgia. As I got older, I became more aware of all of the extraneous things that get in my way of being in the moment, doing my thing and having fun and I miss that.

Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
Trust your instincts!!!! I definitely overthink and second guess myself when I'm working. During Woods I learned so much by just watching other amazing performers, like Joanna Gleason, Chip Zien and Bernadette Peters, and soaking it all in. When I trust myself, listen to other actors and shoot from the hip, it is very often the best choice.

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
He came to my dressing room during the filming for PBS Great Performances (I had left the show in November and came back in the following spring to film). He complimented me on my performance. I expected a note. I said, "That's all?" I always felt in awe of him and wanted to please him. To receive his words of praise were the greatest gift. I will always remember how that moment felt.

Colleen Fitzpatrick
Colleen Fitzpatrick

Colleen Fitzpatrick, Understudy for Florinda, Lucinda and The Baker's Wife

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memory:
I was awestruck with the breadth and definitive talent in the show down to every cast member, including the understudies. You had to be on your game every day or find your game and pronto! From the moment of the first downbeat.

Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
My favorite lyric and also, memory of Tom Aldredge (I had the privilege of also working with him in Passion) was: If I wasn't on, I would get as close to the stage as I could in the stage right wing and watch him and Chip Zien sing "No More." A profound lyric made even more meaningful sung and acted with the deep humanity plus the personal connection between Chip and Tom. Breathtaking. It changed me and I will never forget it.

Joy Franz
Joy Franz

Joy Franz, Cinderella's Stepmother

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memory:
My rehearsal moment was when we were at The Old Globe and Steve Sondheim had just written "No One Is Alone" and Kim Crosby was sitting on the edge of the stage just sight reading the song, tears burst out of my eyes! To me, it's one of the most spiritual and uplifting songs!

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
My stand-out moment with Sondheim was when Steve told me he wrote the role of Cinderella's Stepmother with me in mind! And I was honored to be in the last three months of the revival.

Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
I learned always come back a day early from vacations because you never know when you might have to go on for another role!

Remembering Tom Aldredge:
Tom Aldredge was so supportive and encouraging when, at the last moment, I had to go on for The Witch! He was awesome to me!

Joanna Gleason
Joanna Gleason

Joanna Gleason, The Baker's Wife

Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
I loved singing "Moments in the Woods" especially, "But if life were only moments, then you'd never know you had one."

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
"It Takes Two," I thought it was too high for my voice. I panicked. I suffered in those days from FOS...Fear Of Soprano... But Steve assured me he wrote it for my voice. Actually, he added that if I had a problem with that, that I should see a shrink. I think he was smiling. I think. (I saw a shrink.) All better!

Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
That show paralleled a complicated time in my life, where it was all about "and" versus "or"... And each time I took the journey through the show, different themes within it resonated with greater weight. By the end of my run, I had a perspective on life, on my life, that I may not have ever found without it.

Remembering Tom Aldredge:
Each night as we would take our opening tableau places, Tom Aldredge would say, "Go get 'em baby." He was a calming, wise, funny, lovely man.

Philip Hoffman
Philip Hoffman

Philip Hoffman, The Steward

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memory:
I remember in rehearsal James Lapine, Anne Hould-Ward (costume design), Bernadette Peters and at least one other person got into a huddle to solve some problem or other. I wasn't part of it, of course, but I felt this really positive energy coming off of them. A "creative pleasure" at working out a solution together. That picture of the collaborative nature of theatre—especially musical theatre—has stuck with me ever since.

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
That we recorded the production for PBS was also a great treat. I still have people telling me they watched it over and over as kids. (Then they point accusingly and say, "You killed Jack's mother!") During the taping, Stephen Sondheim complimented my work. I think my heart actually stopped. I mumbled something, incoherently, but I don't remember what. I thought, what does one say? "Oh, you're pretty good yourself?" To Stephen Sondheim?!

Jean Louisa Kelly
Jean Louisa Kelly

Jean Louisa Kelly, Snow White

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memory:
A big memory for me was the night Danielle Ferland fell on the stairs up to the dressing rooms after the show. She and I were buddies and I understudied her role, Little Red. We used to race up the stairs every night after curtain - being 15 and 16 years old, just kids. She slipped and fell one night, bruising her hip badly. She was out for a week, and that night I remember sitting with big eyes on the stoop, as she was being tended to by the medic, and Bob Westenberg walked by eyeing me, "So, it's your big moment, kid, huh?" or something to that effect, with a twinkle and a smirk. I did go on for her for a week – terrifying!

I also remember all the time spent in the dressing rooms with the understudies, playing cards, listening to the grown-ups talk, absorbing it all. They were hilarious and kind. I would work out during the first act and then get into make-up and costume during the second act to go onstage at the end.

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
Stephen gave us each sterling silver "magic beans" for opening night with our initials, the date, SS for Stephen Sondheim, and they spelled out "THANKS." I treasure them.

Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
"Careful the spell you cast, not just on children
Sometimes the spell may last past what you can see and turn against you
Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell
Children will listen." Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
I was so young, only 15, when I did the show. Though I did have a principal part, going onstage every night, the bigger lesson I was learning was how to be helpful to the production while at the same time staying true to myself as a performer. Danielle and I were very different, and I had to play Little Red in a way that matched my personality, but wasn't disruptive to the show when I stepped in. I guess that's a lesson I'm still learning - how to be a worker among workers and at the same time honor my own voice.

Remembering Tom Aldredge:
Tom was crusty, authentic and a true professional. I worked with him on a movie about 10 years later and he was the same way.

Kay McClelland Naugle
Kay McClelland Naugle

Kay McClelland Naugle, Florinda

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memories:
At one point in rehearsal, if not in performance, I think I remember several actors (Joy Franz? Chuck Wagner?) were given little pieces of prosthetic goo to slap on their faces as if parts of Rapunzel had splashed on them after the giant smushed her...

The unstoppable spinning piece of hill (sometimes stuck in the spin cycle).
All sitting in the theatre mooing to see whose "moo" could be used for the voice of Milky White... Really disappointed I didn't get that...
When most of us for the first time heard "No More" in rehearsal, I remember tears on almost everyone's faces.

Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
Could be my favorite lyric is "You move just a finger, say the slightest word, something's bound to linger, be heard."

Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
That could also be the lesson I've taken with me since then, such a simple thing and so often forgotten, the impact we have with every move we make.

Remembering Tom Aldredge:
As for the great Tom Aldredge... I still have the t-shirt he gave us after one of the numbers had been cut. It's black and in white letters it says, "2nd midnight gone!" I'm extremely proud to have been part of such a wonderful production.

Lauren Mitchell
Lauren Mitchell

Lauren Mitchell, Lucinda

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memory:
So many great moments that are probably just too inside to share, really, but I will confess that Kay McClelland and I loved to make Paul Gemignani laugh, and in the Act I finale, we may (or may not) have taken advantage of being "blind" with canes to call attention to our antics.

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
I have a couple of great ones, but fear, they too, are a little too "you had to be there."

Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
"And though scary is exciting, nice is different than good." And the entirety of "No More."

Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
Prior to Into the Woods, I had not originated a role on Broadway. I started with the show at the Old Globe in San Diego, and found the entire process from Old Globe to workshop to Broadway fascinating; how the script and score developed, how all of the production elements came together, and how sometimes getting the seemingly smallest details right often had great impact. James Lapine was tireless and exacting in his attention to all of these things, as was Steve Sondheim with respect to keeping at a song or moment, or "moment" until it was absolutely right, and not being precious about material when it wasn't. To be able to experience the development of the show from the beginning was an incredible experience, and I do think the seeds of what I do now were sown in Into The Woods. Remembering Tom Aldredge:
A dear, kind, decent and good man. We were all out to dinner, don't remember now if it was between shows, or during 10 out of 12's, I think the latter, and we were all talking about our parents, childhoods, etc., and I expressed my (at the time) ambivalence about having children of my own. He urged me to reconcile my ambivalence and to have children. He told me that he and his wonderful wife (the great Theoni V. Aldredge) had a marvelous life, but not having children was the one regret he had. That stayed with me. My daughter is in college now, and she made her own theatrical debut as The Witch in 6th grade. That was something!

Bernadette Peters in <i>Into the Woods</i>
Bernadette Peters in Into the Woods

Bernadette Peters, The Witch

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memory:
The memory that stands out the most for me is when our choreographer, Lars Lubovitch, tied me up so that I would get the feeling of being hunched over in a croney position to play the haggard witch.

So every morning I'd come in to rehearsal and Lars would tie me up and there would go Bernadette, rolling around the rehearsal room, until one day, he said, "You got it... No need for the ropes anymore!" That was a happy day!

Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
My favorite lyric is in "No One Is Alone": "No one acts alone, careful no one is alone!"

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
It was wonderful to hear Steve talk about ["No One Is Alone."] He said people think the song is about being alone, but it's not. It's about how we all affect one another... in everything we do it affects someone, and we have to think about that.

Remembering Tom Aldredge:
Tom Aldredge was a wonderfully talented, generous performer and man. He added to our whole experience. All of us, I believe, missed him at the reunion, BUT we started the show with his voice, saying, "Once Upon A Time!!"

Robert Westenberg and Kim Crosby Westenberg
Robert Westenberg and Kim Crosby Westenberg

Kim Crosby Westenberg, Cinderella

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memory:
So many memories, as you can imagine, but Dick Cavett was (for a time) playing the Narrator. There were technical glitches on some rare occasions that would require the curtain be brought down in order to correct them. There was one time during Cavett's run when such a thing occurred. Rather than leave the audience members to wait out the delay in the dark, Mr. Cavett stepped out in front of the curtain and entertained them for a good 15 minutes! He was truly in his element having hosted his own show for so many years and JUST the guy you needed in a situation like that! By the time the show resumed, the audience was in a grand mood and was witness to something very rare. Also, falling in love with my husband during the course of the run holds a special place in my heart...

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
I will never forget our cast being pulled into a studio during rehearsals at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego (our production prior to the Broadway opening) to hear Sondheim, himself, sing a new song he had just written for the second act— "No One Is Alone." I happened to have a cassette player/recorder (as one frequently did during rehearsals) and caught that rare (and, I think, historical) moment on tape! I treasure it.

Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
One of my favorite lyrics (and one of my more challenging tongue-twisters) was:
"Quick, little birds,
flick through the ashes.
Pick and peck, but swiftly,
sift through the ashes,
into the pot!"

Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
Well, I had never had the good fortune to be in as long a run of a show as Into the Woods, and to keep the show fresh eight times a week was daunting at first. I learned so much from working with this cast. I was, particularly, impressed observing Barbara Bryne at work in this production. I asked her to share some things she found helpful in her vast experience. She was always so consistent in her portrayal, and her interpretation forever NEW. She said she endeavored to change just one thing every single show. Be it a line reading, an action, a reaction... anything that would give her something to look forward to every performance. It was some brilliant advice, because in doing so, it very often prompted a subtle change in others' responses, too. I've used her advice ever since! Remembering Tom Aldredge:
I adored Tom Aldredge. My fondest memory would always be of the twinkle in his eyes. He managed to be gruff AND sweet at the same time, and always a consummate pro! I miss him so much, and we all did (especially) this past week at the Into the Woods Reunion. Hearing his voice saying, "Once Upon a Time…" at the start of the concert sent the audience into a frenzy, and brought me to tears...

Danielle Ferland and Robert Westenberg
Danielle Ferland and Robert Westenberg

Robert Westenberg, Cinderella's Prince/The Wolf

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memory:
During the Tony voting period, between the nominations and the ceremony, I was given a new pair of shoes for the Prince which had extremely thick and spongy soles, very comfy. However, I didn't have time to rehearse any of my physical moves with them before the show. On my first entrance as the Prince, when I came bounding onstage and leapt off the platform, I got so much lift that I lost my center and starting tipping forward in the air. I fell flat on my face and slid across the stage, scraping my hands and tearing a hole in the knee of my pants. It actually got a laugh. It hurt like hell, but of course I had to act like it was intentional and continue with the scene. I felt like a complete idiot.

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
One of my most cherished moments was when we had to replace Kim as Cinderella (not that I wanted her to leave!) and Steve asked me to come to the auditions to help him recast the role. I was so honored. The fact that he valued my input was huge to me.

Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
"Sometimes people leave you halfway through the woods..." It almost always makes me cry.

Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
After doing the show for two years, you learn that acting is an ever-evolving process. There is no arrival. There is no finished product. There is only the moment onstage and being alive and awake to everything around you. I was still making discoveries in the final week. Remembering Tom Aldredge:
Tom and Chip and I had adjacent dressing rooms for two years, eight shows a week. After every show, we would pretend to be an audience member who had just seen the performance and was unimpressed with the other actor's work. However, the rule was that you couldn't say anything overtly negative about that person's work, but you also had to say the truth. The comments ranged from statements like, "You were really on that stage tonight, buddy," to "Wow, that was like nothing I've ever seen before," and "That was so incredibly brave." Tom always topped us. He was brilliant. I loved him like a brother.

Chuck Wagner
Chuck Wagner

Chuck Wagner, Rapunzel's Prince

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memory:
This is from the original run in San Diego. Ellen Foley was The Witch and Kay McClelland was Rapunzel. In the moment where the witch has her beauty restored and is confronted by the Rapunzel family she tries a spell and it doesn't work, so we check ourselves and turn to go. Well, the stage effects at the Old Globe are more old school than on Broadway and with the end of act one approaching, a trap door was unlocked earlier than planned in preparation for the beanstalk. The sting of the spell happened, we looked and were fine, we shrugged... and as we turned to go Kay practically disappeared. The trap had given way and she nearly plunged into the basement! I was lucky to have held on to her enough to stop her descent but she did get some serious bruises. That never happened again!

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
It's all a treasured memory. My favorite day was when he brought us "Agony" in a handwritten version. So elegant. So funny. Such an honor to sing his music.

Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
"The harder to get the better to have" though "Dwarves are very upsetting" is a fun one, too.

Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
I was a new father when we were first in the woods. My wife Susan was very pregnant during the San Diego run and my son Stewart was a real Broadway baby. All of the show's messages hit home deeply, and it strengthened my love of fairy tales and of musical theatre. James Lapine taught me to play simply and honestly and to work hard at the craft. Working with such a talented ensemble was a joy! I am still learning from the show, and I'm happy the movie will bring it to millions more! Truly, no one is alone, and the show helps to strengthen community and family like all great fairy tales!

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Ben Wright, Jack

On-Stage/Rehearsal Memory:
I remember James (Lapine) asking me if I could do a standing backflip at the end of "Giants in the Sky." I said, "No, but maybe I could throw this bag of gold in the air and catch it on the last beat." The rest is history.

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
September 3, 1989, Into the Woods closed on Broadway. The Martin Beck Theatre was sold-out, standing room only, in fact. Steve, Jim, the producers and many of the original cast were there. The curtain came down and everyone joined together onstage. The curtain rose one last time and Steve was ushered downstage center. We thought a curtain speech was at hand; instead, he said this (I paraphrase): "Today is a special day for obvious reasons, but what you might not know is today is also quite special because it's someone's 20th birthday." And with that he pulled me downstage center with him and began singing "Happy Birthday" to me with the cast/crew and audience joining in. If you've ever had 1,400 people on their feet singing "Happy Birthday" to you at the same time, then you know exactly how I felt - blessed. Steve didn't have to do that. He could've soaked-up the limelight for himself; instead, he shifted the focus to me. Pure class. I love that guy.

Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
"We disappoint, we leave a mess, we die, but we don't. We disappoint in turn, I guess. Forget, though, we won't. Like father, like son."

Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
I learned that sometimes in life, you just get lucky.

 

Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason
Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason

Chip Zien, The Baker

On-Stage Memory:
Sitting on a log with Tom Aldredge and singing the simple harmony of "like father like son" - a quiet moment when the audience slips away and it's just you and a wonderful fellow actor, sharing an intimate affection and the pure joy of live theatre.

Rehearsal Memory:
Looking back, I think I want to say that the fact that I was rehearsing at all, that James Lapine stuck with me through thick and thin, through readings, workshops, San Diego, more workshops and finally Broadway, through the tension of previews on Broadway... was an enormous gift. These were all terrific roles, prized roles, and I feel eternally grateful for the opportunity.

Standout Moment with Sondheim:
So many moments ("in the woods")... However, one of the best was sitting in a bar with Steve in Dallas after a benefit at SMU regaling him with unrepeatable backstage ITW stories of bad actor behavior and watching him become hysterically delighted and convulsed with laughter. Favorite Into the Woods lyric:
Again, so many. But: "...No more giants, waging war. Can't we just pursue our lives, with our children and our wives..."

Something you learned about yourself, or as an actor in the production:
Two things. It's really important to take care of yourself and stay healthy when you're in a Broadway show and it's really important to have a wonderful, feisty, magical partner onstage like my dear friend Joanna Gleason, who challenged and inspired me and made me a better actor.

Remembering Tom Aldredge:
Maybe that first answer responds to the question about Tom. Tom was a calming presence, an extremely kind man, a wise elder when we were all going crazy, and warmed up in his dressing vocalizing and over pronouncing for reasons only known to him... "I JUST KILLED THE CAT! I JUST KILLED THE CAT!"

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