The Public Theater's Passion for Musicals Takes Us Into the Woods, Under the Moon

By Matt Wolf
01 Aug 2012

George Rose in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 1985
photo by Martha Swope/©The New York Public Library

Unsurprisingly for a New Yorker, Sondheim has long been a Delacorte habitué, and speaks of having considered beginning the second act of his Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George in Central Park, though that idea was later abandoned: "When we started writing that show, James Lapine and I thought, 'What would people in our time be doing in a park in New York on a Sunday,' and our first thought was that they would be at the Delacorte." In the decades since Sunday, Sondheim has of course been represented at The Public Theater, both with his own musical, Road Show (2008), and, in 2007, as composer (with Michael Starobin) of the music for that season's Lapine-directed King Lear, featuring Kevin Kline.

And while early talk has surfaced of a further collaboration with The Public on a project yet to be named, the 82-year-old maverick was sounding more than pleased to be launching this Into the Woods before a different crowd from the commercial norm. "There's a completeness about the audience that comes to the Delacorte that you don't necessarily get elsewhere," said Sondheim. "The city is like a mosaic, and there's an energy you find as a result at the Delacorte that you don't experience on Broadway, where the audience tends to be the same over and over."

His current leading lady, Donna Murphy, was in the Central Park ensemble of The Mystery of Edwin Drood in 1985 before acceding to Betty Buckley's co-starring role during the subsequent Broadway transfer. Working at the Delacorte is "incredibly liberating," says Murphy, who talks of perhaps returning on yet another occasion, this time to try her hand at Shakespeare. "The whole experience is both trumped and enhanced by mother nature, which you can't manufacture and you can't control. I remember during Drood looking behind me and there was Belvedere Castle and looking up and the moon was rising and a soft breeze was blowing the hair on my wig, and I thought, 'OK, you don't have a thing to complain about; this is about as beautiful and perfect as it gets.'"

 Continued...