PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Into the Woods Is a Mother-Goosed Musical

By Harry Haun
10 Aug 2012

Sarah Stiles
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

After issuing the obligatory (and mercifully heeded) cellphone warning and dispensing bouquets-upon-bouquets to generous sponsors, The Public's Lion King got serious with the gathering. "It's impossible," said Oskar Eustis, "for anybody to be in my job in the days after Marvin Hamlisch died and stand up and not acknowledge that Marvin Hamlisch was not only a great artist but the contribution that he made to The Public Theater with A Chorus Line and to the American theatre through that literally genre-transforming show is inestimable on one hand and on the other hand, for The Public, quantifiable in astonishing numbers. We are mourning Marvin's passing. We are immensely grateful for what he did for The Public, for the American theatre."

He followed that with a sad postscript: "We also need to take a moment to just acknowledge that we, at The Public, have dedicated this production to the memory of Nora Ephron, who was a board member, a lover of Shakespeare in the Park and a New Yorker par excellence. She made us all proud to be part of this city."

The press interviews that followed the show were held on the front lawn on the Delacorte — and, as usual, Donna Murphy made her usual elegant, last-to-arrive Star Entrance — and with some justification. This is one of those typical all-out Donna Murphy performances. Her witch arrives in a mass of blackness in a determined gait, hobbling along with walking stick, over-driving her voice with a husky rasp like Norma Desmond getting her last shot at the cameras. But not to worry about her voice — "I have a good voice teacher" — and the proof of that is that at the end of the show she does an almost healing version of "Children Will Listen."

"Well, she's a woman who's carrying a lot of weight," she said about her easy domination of the stage and the cowering people on it. "It's been a journey of really trying to find things that weren't easy. I love this role. It's just deep in my heart."

She takes some pride in the Houdini-like on-stage exit she worked out with Sheader and Steel. "It's something that's evolved. It was an idea they had. They didn't want me to disappear off-stage, as has been done in previous productions, because they wanted it to be some kind of metamorphosis on stage, and, at one point, it was more extended, but we got that the audiences needed it to happen faster."

Denis O'Hare
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Denis O'Hare came to the show and his lead role of the baker like a blank page. "I never saw it," he admitted with utterly no embarrassment. "I don't know how I missed it. I never saw it or heard it, so I came at it with no previous ideas. [The Baker'] got a slow evolution. He's a flawed person who's in fear of a lot of things, and he strives to overcome it. He doesn't have a masterful breakthrough, but he definitely has a little bit of an evolution."

Happily, he shares scenes with Chip Zien who originated that role and now plays the baker's father — and even sings the other half of a duet with the baker.

"It was tricky when I first did it; I couldn't remember who's supposed to sing where," Zien confessed. "I couldn't see it from that perspective. You know what? It's really been like looking through binoculars from the wrong side, and it's very, very, very emotional. I love doing it with Denis. I hear in my head the voice of Tom Aldredge [who originated the role of the baker's father, identified as Mysterious Man]. I find it very moving to repeat the show, and also, just in the spirit of the show, I try to pass along something that was so meaningful to us when we were younger."

Who's responsible for this fortuitous casting? "I got a very lovely email from Lapine, who said, 'There's been some loose talk that it might be interesting if you would play the Mysterious Man. If this is something you'd be interested in doing, we'd love to see if we could make that happen. And then it did. I completed the circle. It meant a lot to me. It's fun for me because it's a trapped group of people to whom I could tell lots of stories about the original production, and they haven't heard them before."

Could it be that Amy Adams has been rapping her foot impatiently all this time, wrapping film after film and winning Oscar nominations (three, to date) — just waiting to be promptly challenged by theatre? Making your stage debut and doing it with Sondheim is what's known as Going In the Deep End. "That's what I figured," she chirped back, "but who wants to dive in the shallow end? You hit your head, right?"

The Baker's Wife does give her a character with the kind of backbone she has been known to flash on screen. "I like that she's a take-charge person. She's someone who believes in her wish — y'know, believes in what it is she's after. I like her chutzpah."

The not small fact that the role came with song didn't phase her or frighten her at all. "I didn't even know how difficult it was going to be until I started. I remember when I started learning the music before I even came into rehearsal. I knew the solos, but then I started on the group numbers, and I thought, 'Oh, what have I gotten myself into? This is really, really difficult.' But everyone has been great to me. I'm lucky to have really great models here with Jessie Mueller and Donna and Sarah — so many great singers in the show — so I just sat next to them in rehearsal and tried my best."