THE LEADING MEN: Chip Zien, Into the Woods' Original Cast Member, Returns to the Path

By Adam Hetrick
18 Jul 2012

Librettist James Lapine
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

I grew up watching that tape and then passed it on to the younger members of my family, who have also grown up on it. People have such strong emotional connections to that original cast because of the film — you're all synonymous with these roles. How did Into the Woods come about for you originally?
CZ: I started originally as Cinderella's Prince. The first reading I did of it, I was Cinderella's Prince. And, we were upstairs at the old Playwrights Horizons. And, I was doing sort of a Monty Python thing, and I just thought I was killing it. I just thought I was amazing, and James Lapine came up to afterwards and said, "What is wrong with you? What were you doing? It's not a spoof." He said, "No, no, no." I said, "James, look at all the laughs I got." He said, "No, no. Totally wrong." So then they went back [to] rewriting and working on it and I really wanted to play the Baker, but I thought maybe I wasn't what they would want for that role. I was out in L.A. doing a TV series, and I got a call from my old friend Ira Weitzman. He called me up and said, "I know they're thinking of you for the role of the Baker, but I think that they're going to want you to fly into town to audition, and if you do that they may change their mind." [Laughs.] He said, "Lapine's going to call you. Tell him your shooting schedule is too involved, you can't come back here." I said, "Ira, I really want to do that part. I will certainly come back and take my chances." He said, "No, don't do it!" [Laughs.] And, the rest is history. Lapine called me, and I said, "No, James. I'm just stuck." The next thing I knew, Lapine called me up and said, "We're going to offer it to you. We're just going to offer it to you." I said, "Are you kidding me?" It was like the greatest thing to ever happen. So that was it. I came back, and then we went right into rehearsal for the San Diego production, and then after San Diego, we went back into workshop mode and ended up on Broadway.

Zien and Joanna Gleason in the original Broadway production.
photo by Martha Swope

What were workshops and the original San Diego production like?
CZ: It was tense. It was wonderful. Sondheim brought in "No One Is Alone" while we were already in performance in San Diego. We were open, and that number wasn't in. And, we listened to that number in the basement of the Old Globe. There's so many wonderful things… The argument about how long the wolf's penis was going to be was one of the great early controversies! [Laughs.] But Lapine and Ann Hould-Ward were standing around saying, "It's too long. It's obscene. Should we cut it?" There were many, many discussions that were so funny…

What do you recall about that original Broadway experience?
CZ: One of the most thrilling things was that we were rehearsing at 890 Broadway, and Joanna Gleason and I took a cab up Eighth Avenue and we saw, for the first time, the [giant's] boot that was on top of the marquee [at the Martin Beck Theatre, now the Hirschfeld]. And, the marquee was up and the boot was up, and we just stopped. It was just a moment that could never be duplicated. It was like, "Oh my God. This is really happening. This great marquee!" Joanna and I were really close. We really got to be like husband and wife, and she remains one of my best and dearest friends. We talk all the time.

For an Into the Woods fan, it was a real treat to see you and Joanna Gleason reunite for the Sondheim Birthday concert at Lincoln Center and sing "It Takes Two." It was my favorite moment from that night. 
CZ: The night of the Sondheim reunion was… Well, first of all, Mandy Patinkin was there. We've been friends through the years. We were standing in the wings, going, "It's unbelievable that we're here. All of these lives... That it came together — these moments converged." And then Joanna and I walked out on stage, and the first thing we get to sing is, "You've changed…," which was funny. And, it all ended up being up there on stage. Joanna had a perfect moment, and it was so much fun, and Paul Gemignani standing behind us. I was very nervous, [but] it was just comfortable to sit there with Joanna. You could see Sondheim, who was sitting about the tenth row. You could see him reacting and waving. Then Mandy came off after he sang with Bernadette, and we just hugged each other, and both of us started to cry. I think everybody felt that way, and when all those voices came in to sing from Sunday in the Park at the end… We didn't know that backstage. We didn't know how many people were going to come out and sing that gorgeous music from Sunday in the Park. I mean, everybody… Everybody was just a mess. And, there were a lot of friends there — old friends — and people who worked together. It was really something.