Interview: Cole Thompson of INTO THE WOODS at Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts

Catching up with Cole Thompson who plays Jack in the Tony Nominated production of the Sondheim classic INTO THE WOODS, coming to Orlando June 6th – June 11th.

By: Jun. 03, 2023
Interview: Cole Thompson of INTO THE WOODS at Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts

Interview: Cole Thompson of INTO THE WOODS at Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts Here in Orlando, we are lucky to be a stop for many Broadway tours and also very fortunate that these get to play in the magnificent Dr. Phillips Center For the Performing Arts. But rarely do we have the chance to see a limited run of an acclaimed Broadway musical with much of its original cast in place. But next week, we have just that chance when Stephen Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS lands in Orlando, fresh off a successful run on Broadway and original production at City Center ENCORES!. One of those cast members who has been a part of the production from the very beginning is Cole Thompson, who plays the young lad, Jack. I had a chance to catch up with Cole and learn about his take on the role and his exciting journey with INTO THE WOODS.

BWW: Cole, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. We are really looking forward to INTO THE WOODS here in Orlando!

Cole: We're so excited to come there!

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in the theatre?

Interview: Cole Thompson of INTO THE WOODS at Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts Sure. I would say I always grew up singing. That was what I first fell in love with. I was always in choir - as young as five years old. But it wasn't until middle school and high school that I started doing full productions. It was in my freshman year of high school when I did my first full musical production and I fell in love with it from there, and continued doing it, and then in my sophomore year of high school we did LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and I had so much fun that I decided that I wanted to pursue musical theatre after I graduated. And then I thankfully got into University of Michigan and went there for four years. After that, I came to the city and went on my first few in-person auditions after our Michigan showcase. I got an agent and I think my third or fourth audition was for INTO THE WOODS at City Center, and then, after that, it's just been this crazy roller coaster ride.

You have been part of this production from the very beginning. And there are quite a few of the current cast in the same boat – Gavin Creel, David Patrick Kelly, Kennedy Kanagawa, and Brooke Ishibashi just to name a few. What has that been like – being part of it all in essentially three different mountings?

Yeah, it's been so unique. One of my favorite things about it is seeing so many performers that I've looked up to take on the same role and do so many different, cool, and interesting things with these characters. Being able to do that, in all three iterations of this production has been one of my favorite parts of this.

And how has your performance changed over those different productions? Or has it?

Interview: Cole Thompson of INTO THE WOODS at Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts This is the longest amount of time I've ever been in the same production, so being with it for so long, I feel it's giving me the opportunity to find new things continually. Sometimes I think “I don't know what else I can do with this character”, but then, out of nowhere, I'm like, “Oh, wait! I just found this new discovery”, and sometimes it just happens out of nowhere. So I love that that I've been able to grow with the production as it's gone on. I feel like my character has grown as well.

What do you like about playing Jack – is he like you in any way?

It's been so fun to play him, because I always bring some form of myself to a character. I feel that makes it more real for me, and it’s easier to tap into the character. But I feel with Jack, there's so many similarities already, it was pretty easy to just jump into it. There's really an innocence about him that I love, and I like playing with that. That's probably one of my favorite things about him. He always has the sweetest intentions, even though he may not go about them in the right way. He's just a kid and that’s fun to play.

Were you familiar with INTO THE WOODS before being cast as Jack? Had you done or seen the show before?

Interview: Cole Thompson of INTO THE WOODS at Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts Yes, I I remember when the movie version came out. I hadn't heard of the show before then. Then I read a synopsis of it and was like, “Oh! A crossover fairy tale - sounds just like my kind of show!” - because I grew up on all the old Disney princess movies. Then I think I found the PBS recording of the original and I watched that and was blown away by it. It kind of changed my life because I did not expect what happens in Act II. You realize that there's no truly happy ending. Life moves on, and things are always happening which I feel really resonated with me when I watched it. But in terms of performing the show, I had never been in a production of INTO THE WOODS before before this one. I'd seen some. I'd seen the movie. So I was very happy when the opportunity came up.

And as I noted before, the journey for this production of INTO THE WOODS is really unusual in that it started out at City Center Encores, which usually are just limited runs, then a healthy run on Broadway and now a limited tour. What do you think it is about the show that has put it on such a unique path? Why this show at this time?

Interview: Cole Thompson of INTO THE WOODS at Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts What's so specific about our production is it's staged with a minimalist stage design with the actors in front of the orchestra. You don't have any choice but to focus on the characters and the story and the songs. There's no special effects, no made up magic effects. The music and the words that the characters are saying are the main focus of the show which feels really special. It's already an amazing show, but really putting that at the forefront has made it clearer for audiences, and made it so that audiences resonate with it more. And it was all really just in time. Right? Last year, we were still coming out of COVID-19 theater-wise and I feel this show always comes around when people need to be reminded that at the end of the day we're all a collective, and we all go through things, and we all need to support each other and push forward together.

I want to talk a moment about Jack and Milky White. Your interaction with Kennedy Kanagawa as Milky White is so much fun to watch. Often Milky White is just a prop, but having Kennedy embody the role adds such a unique depth to that relationship. And you both look like you are having so much fun on stage!

Interview: Cole Thompson of INTO THE WOODS at Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts Yeah, I I love it so much. I've always been a fan of puppetry in general, but getting to play with Kennedy on stage has been so much fun. Even though I do it every night and every night, it's the same thing, Kennedy really makes the puppet come alive. You can't help but want to pet her or hug her when you see her. It's Kennedy and James Ortiz who designed the puppet and they do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to interacting with her. But she's my little pet. She's like my childhood dog that I loved. So that makes it very easy to connect with her and have so much fun on stage. The audience's reactions to her are so much fun to hear every night.

And is this your first national tour? What has that been like for you?

It is my first, but I did not expect to happen with this production – it came so fast. But it's been so much fun. Being able to go through this all with the same group of people for the most part has made the transition from City Center to Broadway to the tour so much easier. When we were in rehearsal for the tour it just felt like we were all so into our parts. It wasn't even rehearsal anymore. It was just fun, finding new things with this. And getting to see a bunch of cities that I haven't seen before has been great.  Traveling around the country with this super cool group of people has been awesome.

What have the audiences been like so far on tour?

They've all been so receptive and so loving and excited, which I really love. And one of the fun things about tour is going to different cities and seeing how different audiences react to different parts of the show which has been super cool. Sometimes they're very vocal, which is the best, it’s like they're on the ride with you. Those are my favorite shows.

What do you look forward to the most before you step out on stage each night?

Interview: Cole Thompson of INTO THE WOODS at Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts Good question. With this show the music is so incredible, I feel there are just multiple songs that I never get tired of hearing. I love “Ever After”, it's one of my favorite songs. I love listening to “Agony” and “On the Steps of the Palace.” I think those are my favorite things - just listening to the music and hearing my fellow cast members sing the score.  Sometimes I listen to the orchestra and I hear a little instrumentation that I have never heard before - something that pops out different than the night before, which just speaks to how incredible this score is - how detailed it is.

This tour lasts through the end of July. What’s next for you after INTO THE WOODS?

No plans as of yet. The week after tour I'm having a little mini-vacation where I'm going to be back in Orlando and go to Disney World, which I'm very excited for. So that'll be fun. It's been such an awesome journey, but I'm going to spend some time to just decompress, have a little chill moment. And then after that we'll see what happens next.

Do you have any advice for young performers looking to make it into professional theatre?

You have to be your number one fan first and foremost, because even now after this whole journey, I still sometimes get in my head and think “Am I meant to do this? Am I going to be able to do this for the rest of my life?” I have to remind myself that I am a unique performer - no one else brings what you bring to the table as a performer. Every actor, every singer, every performer, is different in some way. And that's the beauty of live theatre and musical theater in particular. Each person can bring something entirely different to a part. Just bring what you bring to the table, and if it's what people are looking for, then they'll cast you. But if not, you still know who you are as a performer. Confidence is very important.

Interview: Cole Thompson of INTO THE WOODS at Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts

INTO THE WOODS runs at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts June 6th – 11th. Performances are 8:00 PM Tuesday – Saturday and 6:30 PM on Sunday, with matinees at 2:00 PM on Saturday and 1:00 PM on Sunday. Tickets are available online at Click Here or by calling the Bill & Mary Darden Box Office at 407.358.6603. Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is located at 445 South Magnolia Avenue, Orlando, FL 32801

All production photos by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Header Photo: Cole Thompson

Top Photo: Cole Thompson

Mid Photo 1: Montego Glover

Mid Photo 2: (L to R) Gavin Creel and Katy Geraghty

Mid Photo 3: Stephanie J. Block

Mid Photo 4: (L to R) Sebastian Arcelus and David Patrick Kelly

Mid Photo 5: (L to R) Kennedy Kanagawa and Cole Thompson

Mid Photo 6: (L to R) Jason Forbach and Gavin Creel

Bottom Photo: The Company of Into the Woods


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