Interview: Jenny Powers and Kevin Clay On Leading INTO THE WOODS at the Link Theatre

The limited engagement will run Thursday, March 7 – Sunday, March 10, 2024, at the Fowler Center.

By: Mar. 01, 2024
Interview: Jenny Powers and Kevin Clay On Leading INTO THE WOODS at the Link Theatre
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We sat down for a Q&A with Broadway and television veteran Jenny Powers, who will star as The Witch alongside The Book of Mormon's Kevin Clay as The Baker in The Link Theatre Company's production of Into the Woods.

Directed by Broadway veteran Joe Langworth, the limited engagement will run Thursday, March 7 – Sunday, March 10, 2024, at the Fowler Center (201 Olympic Dr, Jonesboro, AR 7240) on the campus of Arkansas State University.  

A Drama Desk nominee, Jenny Powers starred on Broadway as Rizzo in Kathleen Marshall's Tony Award-nominated Grease and as Meg in Little Women. Television audiences know Powers from her recent turn as Miriam Rothberg in the critically acclaimed Hulu series “Fleishman is in Trouble.”

Kevin Clay is currently starring as Elder Price in the Broadway's Tony Award-winning production of The Book of Mormon. Clay's journey with The Book of Mormon has spanned eight years, having played on Broadway and in both the U.S. and U.K. tours.

Director Joe Langworth has appeared on Broadway in A Chorus Line, Follies, and Ragtime. He was also the Associate Director of Next Fall on Broadway and the Associate Choreographer for the Lincoln Center revival of South Pacific.

Powers and Clay will journey Into the Woods along with Alex Dunn as Lucinda, Jonathan Foresythe as Steward, Taylor Heinenas as Cinderella's Stepmother, Holly Henson as Rapunzel, Harrison Herget as Rapunzel's Prince, Harper Heringer as Little Red, Janson Marsico as Jack, Brooke Melton as Baker's Wife, John Mixon as Narrator/Mysterious Man, Nancy Owens as Jack's Mother, Josh Pryor as Cinderella's Prince/Wolf, Katie Tarkington as Cinderella's Mother/Granny, Sydnie Walker as Florinda, and Eden Witvoet as Cinderella.

The creative team of Into the Woods includes Mary Medrick as Music Director with set designs by Jeff McLaughlin, costume designs by Claire Abernathy, and lighting designs by Caisa Sanburg.  

What attracted you both to your roles in Into the Woods and how do you relate to your characters?

JP: The Witch has always been my favorite character in Into the Woods. I love the dark, complex characters that are both powerful and vulnerable. In my youth, I was cast as the Witch in my high school and college productions of Into the Woods. That being said, I am looking at this role through a completely different lens as a 44-year-old Mother of three now. The Witch is a mother. Above all, she loves her Rapunzel, this beautiful young girl that she thought she would never have. The Witch is also paranoid of how bad the world is. Therefore, she goes to extreme measures to protect Rapunzel from the outside world. I don’t lock my children in towers, but the wish to safeguard your children from the evils of the world is something every parent understands. The Witch lives in fear of losing her only family, Rapunzel, and of being alone. Like the Witch, my children are a grounding force for me. They are a huge part of my world and soul- just as I am a huge part of theirs. They need me, and I love feeling needed. It gives me a sense of purpose every single day. However, as children grow, they typically need their parents less, which is not always easy on a parent’s heart… Lastly, I want the challenge of playing this multifaceted Witch. She is angry, overprotective, paranoid, and powerful as well as clever, loving and deeply scared of losing everything that is important to her.

KC: For the past 8 years now, I have been performing in The Book of Mormon, which has been the highlight of my career, but I have been hungry to flex some different performance muscles. So when this possibility arose I jumped at the audition. The Baker has always been a dream role, and now, I realize, is closer to home than ever. I've played the 19 year old Elder Price for so long I sometimes forget that my connections to a character that is a husband and father are incredibly strong, and I have loved diving into those feelings.

Can you share any insights into your process of preparing for such iconic roles as The Witch and The Baker?

JP: Before listening to old recordings and rewatching other actresses’ depictions of her, I set out to create my own version of the Witch based on research available on her backstory from the Brother Grimm Fairytales, etc. Whatever questions are unanswered are then filled in by my own imagination. Unlike Dame Gothel, on whom the Witch is loosely based, this Witch needs Rapunzel’s love and company, not her powers. Therefore, it was important for me to  figure out what motivates this Witch…and that is fear. She has a great fear of the unknown. Her objective in act one is to free herself from the curse of old age and ugliness and secure a happy life with her ever maturing daughter, Rapunzel. In Act II, that objective is done and now she lives in a state of unchartered territory, which she cannot handle. Finding her “voice” has been a process. I want to sound old and frightening and yet still honest and grounded as the old Witch. My big note after our first read through was that “her voice” sounded too much like brandy instead of moonshine or vodka :) Needless to say, I am still playing and fine tuning. 

KC: Fortunately, I am no stranger to a swift rehearsal process having done my share of summer stock work. Most of my work has gone into trying to specify The Baker beyond just a strained husband, tired dad, etc. Bringing in nuances from my own marriage and immediately collaborating with Brooke Melton, who plays The Baker's Wife, to make the relationship our own is so satisfying as a performer. 

How has working with director Joe Langworth influenced your approach to these characters?

JP: Joe Langworth is a brilliant director. We are blessed to have him at the helm. He has encouraged me to run with certain backstory ideas that I have about the Witch’s full relationship with the Baker’s Father (wink wink). He has also underscored the Witch’s connection to her former beauty being less about the physical and more about returning to a time in her life when she had everything, including the optimism over what her future held. He believes the Witch to be a warning in lamenting your youth and not moving forward gracefully with age.

KC: Right away in the callback, Joe and I could connect on what it means to be a partner in a long relationship and the pulls and pushes that exist in a marriage. He allows me to work on an organic level, discovering beats and moments as they arise in the room instead of a heavy focus on hitting marks or singing pretty. The music in the show is crucial, of course, but the focus is on what stories we are telling beyond even the text itself. Hopefully our audience will receive all the unspoken heat between the characters.

Jenny, having a rich background in Broadway and television, how does your role as The Witch in Into the Woods compare to your previous roles?

JP: Aside from my Broadway debut as Meg in Little Women, I am almost always cast in the darker, more complex, sophisticated roles, sometimes referred to as the “B”. I am not offended one bit! I love being the villain, the old soul, the diva…as long as there is an opportunity to show the character’s vulnerability, too. Into the Woods combines elements of various fairy tales. 

Kevin, after an extensive journey with The Book of Mormon, how has transitioning to a show like Into the Woods challenged or excited you?

KC: After so many years doing one show, I have moments of doubt whether or not I still have the ability to adapt and create something new. I'm proud of my work as Elder Price, but the desire to shake off the perfect posture and tenor vocals for a brief sabbatical has grown and grown. Even in this brief rehearsal process, I find myself relying on old habits, and it's refreshing to roll and shoulders and slump literally and emotionally. The Baker has a weight to his life from the onset that I have found I love to play. Sure he has his issues to work through, but not ever the facade of perfection that Elder Price wrestles with. Two completely different roles, two completely different men, and a very excited me.

The dynamic between The Witch and The Baker is pivotal to the show. How have you both worked to develop this relationship on stage?

JP: We have had one week of rehearsal under our belts and have only worked through Act I. So the relationship is not fully fleshed out yet. However, the Baker’s wish to have a child is the key to reversing the curse placed on his house as well as the curse placed on the Witch. The Baker is unaware that the quest to collect the four ingredients for the potion is more about serving the Witch’s “wish” than his own. As the Witch, I have a lot of anger toward the Baker because the curse placed on me would never have happened if it weren’t for his father’s actions. I believe his father stole more than just vegetables and beans from her. There may have been a “moment in the garden” between them in which she lost even more to him.

KC: Well, Jenny is an undisputed force and I love how absolutely terrifying she gets to be, and then positively glamorous. The Witch's history with The Baker's family is dark. There is a venom between them all, and yet she needs me to lift these curses. Our production is really allowing for some of those more subtle colors of curiosity and betrayal that exist both ways between The Baker and The Witch to come forth a bit more. They each have a reason to hate the other, but there is something beneath the surface.

Can you share any memorable moments or surprises from rehearsals that have influenced your portrayal of The Witch and The Baker?

JP: There have been no big surprises yet…just some unanswered questions still at this point in the process. One question we keep coming back to is whether the Witch knows exactly where the four ingredients are coming from when she sends the Baker and Baker’s Wife into the woods. If that is the case, what does she envision as the source for “the hair as yellow as corn”. Another unanswered moment is why she introduces the Baker’s Father to the Baker on the third midnight. Is she extending an Olive Branch to him because she knows death may come to him after the curse is reversed?

KC: I'm so pleased by the dynamic between Brooke, The Baker's Wife, and me. I couldn't really craft a full picture of who The Baker is without knowing his connection to his wife. We are finding some fabulous ups and downs that keep their dynamic a really satisfying through line.

With The Link Theatre Company being a blend of Broadway, university, and local talent, how do you view your roles in contributing to the arts community in Jonesboro?

JP: Some might say Northeast Arkansas is somewhat of an arts desert. There are wonderful community theatres around here, but no professional theatre companies aside from the Link. The Link is Northeast Arkansas’ very first professional theatre company. It was created to improve the quality of life here through quality arts programming and productions. Our mission is to further enrich our local arts community; engage the larger arts communities around us (Little Rock, Memphis, Northwest Arkansas, St. Louis); and gain national recognition as a destination where world class theatre is experienced. Therefore, my and Kevin’s role in this production is not only to play the Witch or the Baker, but also to inspire every cast member to elevate their craft to the next level. It is a huge learning opportunity for these University students and young artists to work alongside Broadway veterans. On the flip side, knowing that you are one of the role models in the room makes you push yourself even further to do deeper work. The professional artists always learn from the local talent, too. Their passion and determination to hone their craft is always inspiring to me!

KC: I've had the privilege of seeing nearly the entire country while touring. Entire communities thrive because of a single theatre sometimes. The Link is nurturing a passion for the arts in Jonesboro, but their mission takes one extra step and that is a connection to the industry at large. An inclusion of talent from New York, their Elevate program, and professional attitude helps cultivate a generation of artists. 

Why must audiences come and see the show?

JP: We have brought Broadway to their backyard, and the tickets are only 35 dollars each!!! Into the Woods will take place at the Simpson Theatre within Arkansas State University’s Fowler Center. The theatre only seats 170ish people, which will make for an intimate, off-Broadway feel. Above all, every audience member will find a piece of themselves in one or many of the characters’ journeys through the Woods. SO, meet us in the woods!!!!

KC: There is a reason why Into the Woods is done so often: it is one of the greatest stories in musical theatre. I think audiences here will find themselves surprised seeing themselves in many of these characters. If you're young, come see our show to dream. If you are old, come to reflect on the path your life led you down. Especially if you are a parent, come to watch me cry over a prop baby. And I'll leave it at that.

How To Get Tickets

Tickets for Into the Woods start at $35, and can be purchased by visiting www.thelinktheatre.org or by calling the A-State Box Office at 870-972-2781. Evening performances are on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 PM with matinee performances on Saturday at 2 PM and Sunday at 2:30 PM.

A professional theatre company located in Jonesboro, Arkansas, The Link Theatre was founded by Broadway couple Matt Cavenaugh (West Side Story, A Catered Affair) and Jenny Powers. The non-profit company draws on the finest Broadway, university, and local talent to bring innovative musicals and plays to the Northeast Arkansas community. For more information, please visit TheLinkTheatre.org.




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