Exclusive: Moments in the Woods- Inside the INTO THE WOODS Original Cast Reunion at BAM
Can you believe it's been almost 28 years since the original production of Into the Woods opened on Broadway? Seems like only yesterday my mother was dragging a 6-year-old me, literally kicking and screaming, from below the marquee of the Martin Beck Theatre (now the Al Hirschfeld) to the Winter Garden Theatre where Cats was playing. (I wanted desperately to see Into the Woods, but a family "friend" told my parents that Cats would be more appropriate for my age group. Thanks for ruining my life, lady.) In the right light, you can still to this day see my claw marks scraped along 45th Street.
Other than through the grainy haze of three worn-out VHS tapes, and subsequent laserdisc and DVD copies, I never did get to see the original cast do the show. Justice was finally served, however, when I recently got lucky enough to attend the ITW reunion held at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn. Part retrospective, part live performance, part moderated panel, and part best day of my freaking life, this very special event with musical direction by Tedd Firth was hosted by beloved CBS correspondent and humorist Mo Rocca. Incidentally, it fell on Father's Day, which worked out great for me considering I've been estranged from my father for over a decade now, and...well that's another story - never mind. Anyway!
The audience was appropriately packed with theatre nerds who all but burst into flames the moment the lights came down and a recording of Tom Aldredge's voice reciting his famous first line, "Once upon a time," officially kicked off the show. Mo Rocca delivered a hilarious opening monologue, giving a nod to the dads in the audience and pointing out the irony of celebrating this particular musical on such a holiday. He encouraged us to swing by the merch counter in the lobby for an Into the Woods greeting card, from which he pretended to read a passage: "Dear Dad: You disappoint, you disappear, you die but you don't. Happy Father's Day."
Before bringing his first guests to the stage, Mo took the audience's temperature by asking who in the house was a crazy, die-hard ITW psycho-fan. The entire room erupted into a shrieking and squealing mushroom cloud of gold glitter. Once we settled down, he then asked who wasn't really all that aware of Into the Woods and more or less just tagged along with a friend or family member. Two people in the back of the room golf-clapped apprehensively. They were killed on sight and we were able to carry on.
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine suddenly appeared to a riotous ovation. (I died.) Prompted by questions from a visibly giddy Rocca (who - trust me - was only one of many overexcited Mo's in the room), the two recounted the origins of their masterpiece; how the concept was born, how they chose which fairy tales to include, etc. (nothing any true fan hasn't heard countless times thanks to regular YouTube interview binges and Blu-ray/DVD extras, but whatevz - there they were!)
The original Baker and his Wife, Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason, soon joined the panel to tell us the story of how it all happened [for them]. Joanna told of her ill-prepared audition for the show, recalling that she'd only arrived with a ballad and when asked by James Lapine if she had anything peppier, panicked and offered to sing it again really fast. The rest, of course, is Tony Award-winning, in-your-face-Patti-LuPone history. Chip and Joanna then took center stage to sing "It Takes Two", complete with intro dialogue (ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? I DIED AGAIN), which was then followed by an emotional solo performance by Chip of "No More", in part tribute to the late Tom Aldredge (Original Narrator/Mysterious Man).
Kim Crosby (Original Cinderella), Robert Westenberg (Original Wolf/Cinderella's Prince), Danielle Ferland (Original Little Red) and Ben Wright (Original Jack) each eventually took the spotlight to sing their signature songs from the show. It was almost too much for a show queen's fragile heart to handle. Kim Crosby (who looked amazing and still sounds like she's 28) sang "On the Steps of the Palace", followed by an anecdote about her seemingly endless round of ITW auditions and how she superstitiously wore the same dress to all of them. She jokingly speculated that they finally gave her the job so that she would be able to afford a new outfit.
After a perfect rendition of "Hello, Little Girl" (original choreography included), Robert Westenberg reminisced about the evolution of his anatomically correct Wolf costume, and how it took Ann Hould-Ward several attempts before settling on a version that didn't completely distract the audience into oblivion. Danielle Ferland added that as a young innocent, the Wolf's costume provided her a unique education while simultaneously scarring her for life.
At this point, the audience was in such a state of unbridled ecstasy, we almost (I said ALMOST) forgot that we had now gone almost an hour without any trace of the main attraction...the First Lady of the American Musical Theatre...the witch from next-door...Bernadette Peters! Then finally, after what felt like an eternal 20-minute intermission, out she came, greeted by a frenzied standing ovation. (I seriously died. Twice.)
Now, can someone please tell me why Bernadette Peters still appears to be in her mid-to-late 30's? It was cute about 25 years ago. Then around the early 2000's it was just really impressive. Now it's just bizarre. I mean, she looks incredible! I'm pretty sure she eats babies, but, like, can someone tell me what kind? I must have the recipe. Anyway, I digress...
Bernadette spoke of her introduction to the show and how she eventually came to accept the role. And in one of the many highlight moments of the reunion, sandwiched between Sondheim and Lapine, under a giant mop of glorious red curly perfection and with a bit of persuasion from our trusty Mo Rocca, Bernadette pulled from behind her chair a pointy plastic nose which she then applied to her porcelain-like face and proceeded to deliver a flawless a cappella rendition of "The Witch's Rap". (AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dead.)
By now, the entire audience was levitating above their seats. Bernadette moved center stage and sang "Stay With Me," which was so magical it could only have been followed by Joanna Gleason's highly anticipated showstopper, "Moments in the Woods". To close the show, the entire cast came together one last time for a full-out performance of "Your Fault/Last Midnight" into "No One is Alone/Finale (Act II)". It was without a doubt every crazy, die-hard ITW psycho-fan's ultimate wish come true.
In summation, I am dead now. Please forward my mail to gay Heaven. Thank you.
Photo Credit: Richard Termine