By Andrew Gans
23 May 2002
Veteran actor John McMartin has received glowing notices — and a Tony nomination — for his work as the Narrator in the revival of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, and it's not the first time the performer has starred in a Sondheim musical. In fact, McMartin appeared in the original Broadway production of Follies as well as an L.A. company of A Little Night Music.
Now a five-time Tony nominee — he also received nominations for his performances in Sweet Charity, Don Juan, Show Boat and High Society — McMartin speaks fondly of the composer whose works are currently being celebrated at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. "[Sondheim] was always in there making sure we were on the right path," McMartin recently commented at the Tony Nominees luncheon. "We always looked forward to the fact that he was coming in. We knew we were going to have a lesson from the master."
McMartin, it should be noted, has worked with his share of masters. He was directed by Hal Prince in the aforementioned production of Follies, and he admitted that Prince liked to experiment during rehearsals. "I remember [Prince] had so many different ways of interpreting 'The Road You Didn't Take.' We tried them all, and I'm glad we did because when you do that, you come up with something fascinating within the structure of whatever that piece is. Maybe the whole thing won't work that way, but don't forget that moment . . . it's a tremendous insight to help color the character." McMartin also spoke about James Lapine, who helmed the original and current productions of Into the Woods. "[Lapine] is very precise," McMartin said. "He knows what he wants, but he's also open to interpretation all the time. I always feel it's best to go with what the director wants and try to embellish that. If you're really harboring your own interpretation about a specific, try to sneak it in somehow . . . it's a collaborative thing."
When asked about the chance of winning this year's Tony Award, the actor smiled and said, "It's always nice to be nominated." Perhaps June 2 will finally bring McMartin Broadway's highest honor.