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

By Matt Wolf
01 Aug 2012

Linda Ronstadt and Rex Smith in The Pirates of Penzance, 1980
Photo by Martha Swope/©The New York Public Library

There are hazards to musicals outdoors, to be sure. Patricia Routledge played Ruth in the famous Delacorte Pirates of Penzance, featuring Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt and Rex Smith, that later moved indoors to the Uris (now the Gershwin), where the English Tony winner was replaced by Estelle Parsons. "I learned not to attempt too full-throated a sound," laughs Routledge, recalling during a recent London Q&A the risks involved in performing in Central Park, "lest I end up with a mouth full of midges." But that's a small price to pay for The Public Theater over time articulating a commitment to the genre that has seen the Delacorte move on from Pirates to Two Gentlemen of Verona to Hair and now Into the Woods, even as The Public's downtown home has spawned such diverse musicals as Caroline, or Change; Passing Strange; Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson; The Total Bent through to this coming season's Giant, with music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa, and the Fatboy Slim/David Byrne collaboration, Here Lies Love.

Eustis, as might be expected, talks of a "fantastic arc of Public Theater musicals that I'm really proud of and one in which this revival of Into the Woods absolutely plays its part." Here, as with many a Shakespeare text, is a piece that in Eustis' words "understands the whole constellation of human life as a tapestry that goes from the public to the private and back again, so that they can't be separated one from the other." And if this new setting for the show demands that you hear Into the Woods afresh? Well, to cite Sondheim's own lyric, "children will listen." And let's hope adults will, too.

(This feature appears in the summer 2012 Playbill for Shakespeare in the Park.)

(Matt Wolf is London theatre critic for The International Herald Tribune, which is seen online at, and theatre editor at

50 Years of Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte:

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George Rose, Linda Ronstadt, Rex Smith and Kevin Kline in The Pirates of Penzance, 1980
Photo by Martha Swope/©The New York Public Library

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