A 13-year-old Danielle Ferland made her Broadway debut as the bespectacled Louise in the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical Sunday in the Park With George. Just three years later she would originate the role of the sweet-toothed Little Red Riding Hood in the Sondheim-Lapine musical Into the Woods.
Today, two decades later, Ferland is charting a new path as The Baker's Wife in the Westport Country Playhouse-Baltimore Center Stage production of Into the Woods, which is playing to May 26 in Westport, CT.
Had you always wanted to come back to Into the Woods?
Danielle Ferland: Yes. I mean, not consciously at the time, but, as I got a little bit older and grew into an adult, this is a role I always wanted to play. This is a full-circle dream come true for me because Baker's Wife is just a fantastic role. During the original production, did you have moments of watching Joanna Gleason doing it that made you think, "I have to…"
DF: Yeah. In retrospect, sure, but I made a conscious choice not to watch the DVD once I was cast [this year] because I don't… Obviously, she's amazing, and we all can bow down, but I'm trying my best to make it my own, but definitely. I think there's something about the character — the way she does it, especially — she's very dry and witty, and I feel like I might have a little bit of that in me, too. I would like to think. [Laughs.]
|photo by Richard Anderson|
Are you having moments of déjà vu?
DF: Completely! I had a moment where I was standing off to the side, and someone said, "Little Red," and I looked up. [Laughs.] It was really interesting. I had déjà vu of that and of things I forgot — moments that I loved about the show — that I had forgotten about. The smallest moment that you only remember from the inside out as you're performing it as opposed to watching it.
What are some things that you remember about the original production? What was the process like?
DF: It was a lengthy process. I was fortunate enough to do some of the readings. I did not go to San Diego with it, but we had a lot of different workshops and different readings, different endings, and they just continued to play and explore. It was something that changed so much through previews and just through everything, so it was lengthy, but I remember the whole way — specifically, that I was like, "Pinch me! I don't believe I'm here."
What were some of the different endings?
DF: ...I remember a very early reading where the Baker's Wife did not die. A bunch of different things like that. There were so many that I can't even recall.
Tell me about being so young and working on a Sondheim show.
DF: Well, it's so funny because when I was very young doing Sunday, I didn't realize the magnitude, of course, I just know that Steve is this extraordinary, humble genius. I remember people would say, "What are some of your favorite moments?" I'm like, "Day One listening to Steve sing through his score with his eyes closed at the piano." You just feel like you're in the presence of brilliance. And, James [Lapine]... They just both had this capacity to talk to young people. It wasn't like a cast full of kids, so I was very lucky that they were just so adept at that. I was very fortunate as a youngster to work with a director and a composer like that, who spoke so well to me.
Did working with such extraordinary artists like that shape you as a person and an actor?
DF: Oh, it changed my life completely. I was so fortunate to grow up in Sondheim, you know. It shaped me into a performer, and [gave me]...the deep appreciation of the art and the process, moreso than if I'd done anything else. I always knew that I wanted to work and have a long career, even at a young age. People used to say, "Well, what do you want to fall back on?" I'm like, "I can't imagine anything else." I have a strong work ethic, and I think these shows really helped develop that in me.
Looking back at the original production, you had an amazing cast. What are some of your experiences that you treasure?
DF: Oh, goodness! It was just such a collaborative process. Bernadette [Peters] was just... She's a true star. Even when I was young with her, she was never someone who I felt played that card at all. She was always just gracious and wonderful. And, I remember once, her inviting me into her dressing room for sushi, and I didn't even eat sushi! She was just so nice to me. She was wonderful. And, Joanna [Gleason]… I always felt like a parental thing, with her especially. They sort of took me under their wing, and I really, really liked that.
Were there favorite moments from the performance that you look back on with fondness now?
DF: I loved "No One Is Alone." That was a moment in the show that, especially for the characters, it really shows her vulnerable side. I really loved that. That's something that I remember every night I would sit and just let it sort of wash over me.
|photo by Richard Anderson|
Any things you remember about your last performance? Does that stand out?
DF: Well, what's interesting is that I actually came back to do the DVD. And, I remember thinking, "This is an extraordinary gift," because I had left the show. I remember sobbing through most of the show when I left. But, coming back to do the DVD, that was fantastic. We got this opportunity to come back for a week. I also remember Phylicia Rashad [who took over as the Witch] came back for my last show. She wasn't in the show anymore. And, I came backstage, and I said, "Why are you here?" And, she said, "Because it's your last show." I thought that was extraordinary. This was that kind of show and the kind of people that were attracted to this piece. We were very fortunate. Will you tell me about filming the production? Theatre people really cherish it.
DF: I left the show, I think it was November or December and I came back in the spring. And, we filmed several live performances and then did pickups during the day. Again, it was a great experience. Obviously, the people who were cast, who were in the show, had to graciously step aside, which was another thing that was amazing. I really loved revisiting it and coming back and doing that. This show has affected so many people it's unbelievable. People stop me, still. People talk about it. People just love the messages, and it's just… I think it's really timeless. It's really going to live on. We're very fortunate.
Obviously you had audiences that were really charged to see the original cast return. Do you remember their reaction?
DF: I remember Bernadette always got this huge round of entrance applause. I remember her entrance, when we came back for that, it was like you couldn't even move on. It was her first show back. It was like it stopped everything in its tracks for quite a while. I do remember, as well, the closing of the show, because we all came back, and they had to reserve the second row for us. That was an extraordinary night. It was unbelievable.