Monday, November 24, 2014

Into The Woods Reunion

Jonah and I took such a wonderful trip two weeks ago.  A couple of months ago we found out the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California was hosting an Into the Woods reunion with some of the original Broadway cast and creators.  As soon as tickets went on sale, Jonah and I bought two and planned our trip.

Into the Woods is one of my favorite musicals.  I saw the original Broadway production in 1989 with my mom, dad, and (at that time) future girlfriend.  By the time we saw it, some of the original cast members had left the show (in fact, the show closed about three months after we saw it), but some original cast members were still present.  Bernadette Peters, Chuck Wagner, Joanna Gleason, and Danielle Ferland had left by the time I saw it, but Chip Zien, Robert Westenberg, Barbara Bryne, Edmund Lyndeck, Tom Aldredge, and Ben Wright were still there.  I can't remember if Kim Crosby was still in the show.  It seems to me she wasn't.  I'll have to dig out my old Playbill and see.  In any case, I didn't see all of the original cast.  I also remember Nancy Dussalt (from "Too Close to Comfort") was the Witch and Dean Butler (from "Little House on the Prairie") was Rapunzel's Prince.

At the time I saw the show, I enjoyed it, although I found the second act somewhat depressing.  But the more I listened to the Broadway company recording and read the script, the more the meaningful the show became to me.  I've written about the show in the past here and here.

I am so glad the recording that appeared on PBS of the original Broadway company exists.  I love it.  I think it is such brilliant theatre by an exceptional cast.

Anyway, when Jonah and I found out there would be this chance to see a mini-reunion, we jumped at it.  James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, the show's original creators, would be present as would Robert Westenberg, Kim Crosby, Ben Wright, Danielle Ferlands, Joanna Gleason, Chip Zien, and Bernadette Peters.  How could an Into the Woods fan not want to see that?  Jonah even upgraded our original tickets (which were in the balcony, I think) to the fifth row which, the ticket clerk assured Jonah, would be close enough "to see the sweat on Bernadette Peters' brow."

Jonah and I left on Saturday, Nov. 8th.  We had been invited to stay with a friend Jonah worked with on another show, and Jonah's friend, Stan also got us free tickets for a production of Ragtime he was performing in in Redondo Beach.  Jonah and I left early so we could get to Stan's house in L.A. before Stan left for his matinee performance.  Stan lives in a very quiet neighborhood in a very curvy, hilly area of L.A.  His house is very high up the road to his house is quite narrow.  It's a beautiful area, but I couldn't live like that.  His balcony is about three stories high and his backyard has quite an incline.  The houses in the neighborhood are also very close to one another.  Parking is tight and, often, hard to find.  And then, of course, there is L.A. traffic.  I once considered living in L.A. after grad school, but because I met Jonah, I chose not to.  Now I'm glad I didn't.  I love the L.A. area a lot, but I can't see living there.  It's just too congested, busy, and expensive for my taste.  Just navigating the freeway system and driving with the locals is very stressful.  As much as I drive to L.A. you'd think I'd get used to the freeway system and the crazies on the road.  You'd be wrong on both counts.

That being said, Stan's neighborhood was lovely.  We visited with Stan for a bit, and then he left.  I had been driving for most of the day (although Jonah drove a leg of the trip as well), and I was tired.  I took a nap and Jonah went out with another friend, Janice, while I took a nap.  I got up before they got back and enjoyed the quiet.

Soon Janice and Jonah came back with food from McDonald's for me.  They had eaten at some organic vegan place; I was happy for McDonald's.

After visiting with Janice we got ready to go see Ragtime and said goodbye to Janice.  The drive to Redondo Beach wasn't too bad, although it's always a bit nerve-wracking driving and navigating your way in an unfamiliar area.  Stan had also given us directions so that was useful.

Ragtime is not my favorite musical.  I saw both the touring production and a regional production and just felt underwhelmed.  This production, however, was fantastic and made me see the show in a whole new light.  I thought the staging and choreography was so inventive and creative; the production values were outstanding, and I imagine this production cost a pretty penny; the stories felt connected in a way that never translated in the two previous productions I had seen; the performers (except for the young actor playing the Boy, who had a terrible speech impediment) were terrific.  It was just a fabulous production.  Mesmerizing!

Some of the most memorable moments for me were the opening number, which I felt was staged so well (and also included Harry Houdini hanging upside down in a straight jacket); the actress who played Emma Goldman was so great; there was one number where the black members of the cast were in silhouettes and it was a powerful image; the shooting smoke in the Henry Ford number; the "We Can Never Go Back to Before" number; and the young CoalHouse playing the piano at the end of the show.  It was so good.  Really good theatre.

After the show we hung out in the lobby while Stan visited with some friends.  Then we followed Stan back home (it's so much easier following someone who knows where they're going than trying to find it yourself).  Stan let us park in his driveway, which was very convenient.  We visited with Stan for a bit and then went to bed.

The next day we slept in a bit, visited with Stan some more, and then drove to Costa Mesa.  We got there too early to check in to our hotel, so we went over to the mall and window shopped.  It was clear to me that the clientele that shopped at that mall have far more money than I do.  We got something to eat and then headed back to hotel.

It was a very nice hotel and had a man-made lake on the property.  We took a nap and then got dressed for our evening at the Into the Woods reunion.  The venue was very close to our hotel.  We dressed up because, for us, it was a special, once-in-a-lifetime event.  We had been told to get to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts early as there would be props and costumes from the Broadway production of Into the Woods on display.  We walked over and waited with the crowd, and you could feel the excitement.  Jonah had to go back to the hotel to get something, and they opened the doors just before he returned. 

Upon entering, the sound of the original production's pre-show soundtrack (with chirping birds and a howling wolf) was playing.  The first prop we saw was Milky White.

We also got a photo of the Giant's Harp.

People were doing photo ops in Cinderella's Family Carriage, but it was too busy for us to do so, and I didn't take a picture of it until after the evening had ended.

We also heard that the hen that laid the golden eggs was on display, but we must have missed her.

On the second floor we saw many of the original Broadway costumes by Ann Hould-Ward, including Cinderella's Prince,

Little Red Ridinghood and the Wolf,

the Baker and his Wife,

the Witch and Jack,


Jack's Mother,

and others.

Near the costumes were props, opening night gifts, photos, musicals scores, and other memorabilia.

It seemed like there just wasn't enough time to view everything properly, especially since it was so crowded, but it was so fun to be so close to these items from Broadway history.

Soon we sat down in the theater.  We were on the fifth row, and the people on either side of us were very exuberant, almost to the point of being annoying, but on the other hand, I couldn't really blame them.  I knew we wouldn't be allowed to take pictures during the show, so I took a preliminary photo in anticipation of the event.

Soon the lights dimmed, and the crowd went wild as Mo Rocca introduced Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.  There was an immense standing ovation and loud cheering that went on for what seemed like forever.

 Photo Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD

I never thought I'd get to meet Stephen Sondheim in my lifetime, which I did, and I didn't think I'd get to see him again, so this was so cool.  Mo Rocca was an entertaining moderator and clearly he was as elated to be here as the rest of us were.

Sondheim and Lapine said Into the Woods originally started as an idea for a TV program involving famous sitcom characters interacting with each other, but that it fizzled out.  They also said they never experienced any major disagreements.  Sondheim said, "Whoever cares most, wins."

Soon Joanna Gleason and Chip Zien came out.  It's clear they had a good friendship, but I can also see that Chip Zien might have been a bit high-maintenance and neurotic to work with.  Gleason said, "Chip bears the distinction of being the only actor I've ever worked with who I've hit."  Zien said, "We had a feisty relationship."  I felt like he probably uses humor as a defense mechanism.

Photo Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD

I was reminded that the Baker's Wife's lyric, "This is ridiculous/What am I doing here?/I'm in the wrong story" is the only lyric Sondheim has borrowed from an actor (Gleason during a phone call with Sondheim when they were discussing her character, and she said something similar to what became the final lyric).

Then Gleason and Zien performed "It Takes Two."  It was magic.  How exhilarating to see these two perform this number again after so many years.  To my eye they recreated much of the original choreography, too.  Then Chip Zien sang a solo rendition of "No More."  I had forgotten that Tom Aldredge, who played the original narrator, had passed away.

Then Kim Crosby came out and sang, "On the Steps of the Palace."

And then Robert Westenberg showed up.  I don't know why I didn't ever know that he and Kim Crosby were married in real life.  How did that piece of trivia escape me?

Photo Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD

There was quite a discussion about the Wolf costume, which was "profoundly endowed" and "pendulous."  The "appendage" had to be reduced because it was upstaging the scene in previews.  Kim Crosby joked that they had a Wolf costume at home.

Next Danielle Ferland showed up, and she and Robert Westenberg did a rendition of "Hello, Little Girl" (again, using much of the original choreography). 

 Photo Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD

Photo Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD

Ferland has put on some weight (not a bad thing, it happens), and I got the feeling maybe her voice wasn't in top form.  Perhaps that's why she didn't sing "I Know Things Now."  After "Hello, Little Girl" Ben Wright came out and sang "Giants in the Sky" and his voice sounded just as pristine as it did when he performed the song on the original Broadway cast album.

Then Mo Rocca talked with him and Danielle.  They talked about how they were the young ones in the show, and Wright talked about how he started his career at the top and maybe didn't appreciate how special that was at the time.

 Photo Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD

Lapine said he wrote Little Red specifically with Ferland in mind.  It was also discussed that "I Guess This Is Goodbye" is Sondheim's only song that doesn't rhyme.  Ferland talked about how the lyric, "Isn't it nice to know a lot/And a little bit not" is close to her heart because as she matured in show business she learned there were sides of it that she wished she didn't know about it, and when she was in Into the Woods she was still innocent in many ways.

Oh, and then Robert Westenberg and Joanna Gleason did "Any Moment" and "Moments in the Woods."  I was enthralled.

 Photo Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD
Photo Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD

Then it was intermission.  I went out to get some air.  When Act 2 began and Bernadette Peters joined Lapine and Sondheim.

Photo Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD

It was kind of cool being so close to Bernadette Peters (really, everybody).  Peters said the line, "When you're dead, you're dead" sums up who her character is pretty well.  Peters also talked about how the Witch is not necessarily nice, but tells the truth.  She tells things the way they are.  Sondheim talked about how some nice people lie to spare others' feelings, but that is not always useful or desirable.  

The magic of the witch's transformation was also discussed, and that is something I was always curious about.  Apparently it was as simple as prerecorded lines by Peters, a body double, and a trap door.  Peters said if Sondheim didn't write she'd "have nothing to sing about."  My thoughts exactly.

Peters put on a fake Witch's nose and did the Witch's Rap.  Then she performed "Stay with Me."  Like everybody else who performed that night, Peters sounded great, but you can tell her voice is probably suffering the effects of age.

Then Peters, Zien, Ferland, Wright and Crosby did "Your Fault" and "The Last Midnight," again with much of the original staging and choreography.  It was so much fun to watch and felt almost like we were seeing the original production.

 Photos Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD

Rocca asked people what their favorite lines or lyrics were.  Sondheim said, "We. Are. Moving."  Wright, who is now a financial advisor is real life, said, "And you think of all of the things you've seen/And you wish that you could live in between," inferring that this night reminded him of a part of his life he loved, cherished, and missed.  You could tell he was happy with his current life, but that the opportunity to perform again was very meaningful to him.  Rocca also asked what lines actors were surprised got laughs.  Westenberg said, "I was raised to be charming, not sincere."  Gleason said, "You forgot your scarf."

Rocca asked Sondheim and Lapine "What was it like, hearing these songs tonight?"  Sondheim replied, "Very upsetting.  I want to hear them forever."  I got the sense that here was man who knows he has relatively little time left in mortality.  Lapine's answer was funnier and less sentimental: "Um, it's like an acid flashback."

The cast closed the show with "No One Is Alone," "Children Will Listen," and "Into the Woods."  Seeing Danielle Ferland and Kim Crosby crying during "No One Is Alone" was also moving. Like us, they recognized, I'm sure, that this was" just a moment in the woods, " unlikely to be repeated least like this.

Photo Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD

 Photo Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD

Photo Courtesy: DOUG GIFFORD

It was such a magical night, well worth the money we paid.  Nothing like this will ever likely happen again, and I'm so glad we were able to be a part of it.

I learned that Pamela Winslow and Chuck Wagner, who played the original Rapunzel and Rapunzel's Prince, were in the audience of the matinee performance (we were at the evening showing).  That's cool.

Here are my photos of the closing (not as good, by any means, as the above photos):

Like Sondheim, I didn't want the evening to end.  After the performance, these lyrics seemed even more relevant to how I felt about having witnessed this once-in-a-lifetime program:"This was just a moment in the woods./Our moment,/Shimmering and lovely and sad./Leave the moment, just be glad/For the moment that we had./Every moment is of moment/When you're in the woods..."

I guess for people who paid even more money, there was an after-party with the cast and creators.  That would have been fun, but we couldn't afford that.  Instead we got some dinner and went back to the hotel.

The next day we stopped in Orange and went to some antique stores and then drove home.  Jonah and I were in a vintage items store when I came across this typewriter.

Mom and Dad had one just like it (same color and model) when I was growing up. I got a little teary because it reminded me of them.

It also reminded me of the time my niece and nephew and I were cleaning Mom's basement after they moved in to help care for her. As I was trying to persuade Mom to donate or throw away the typewriter (which by this time was broken, had no ink, and had sat untouched on a shelf for years), Mom said, "You can't get rid of it. I use it ALL THE TIME!" Still makes me laugh.

By the way, I honored her wishes and didn't give away the typewriter.

It was such a fun trip.  I went back to L.A. a week later and stayed with Stan so I could audition for the Utah Shakespeare Company (which went well - maybe the ninth (or tenth; I've lost track how many times I've auditioned for them) will be the charm.

We'll be going back again this Sunday for a trip we've been planning for a long time to Disneyland and Universal Studios.  Perhaps I'll write about that next.

1 comment:

Sara said...

Did you see Bernadette Peters in the new Netflix series?