Stage Whispers: Unveiling the Backstage Stories of Musical Theater Standouts

Stage Whispers: Unveiling the Backstage Stories of Musical Theater Standouts

Lifting the Curtain on Into the Woods

You know, I’ll never forget the day we started rehearsals for Into the Woods. It was like stepping into a whole new world – one filled with Tony-winning magic, behind-the-scenes mishaps, and memories that would last a lifetime. As a young 22-year-old understudy, I had no idea what I was in for, but looking back, that experience spoiled me in the best way possible.

The original cast of this Sondheim and Lapine masterpiece recently sat down to share their untold stories, and let me tell you, it’s a treasure trove of theater gold. From on-stage mishaps to personal memories with the legendary composer, these seasoned performers pulled back the curtain to reveal the true magic that happens behind the scenes.

One of my favorite moments has to be when Bernadette Peters stood her ground during rehearsals. You see, our choreographer Lar Lubovitch had this specific staging for Bernadette’s first stanza of “The Last Midnight,” but she had a different vision. She simply looked at him and said, “What if I just stood still for this part of the song?” And you know what Lubovitch did? He listened to her! Can you believe it? I was floored. Here was this theater legend, gracefully collaborating with the choreographer, and I learned right then that the best artists are the ones who aren’t afraid to speak up and trust their instincts.

And then there was that time when Sondheim himself left a note on the callboard, asking for suggestions on how to improve a couplet in the “Agony” reprise. Being the fledgling songwriter that I was, I labored over those lines for days, thinking I could outsmart the master. But of course, Sondheim’s original was perfection – I should have known better than to try and one-up him!

Throughout it all, the camaraderie and support amongst the cast was truly something special. I remember Tom Aldredge, who played the Narrator/Mysterious Man, always making sure we understudies felt valued and included. He’d greet us with a fatherly “Go get ’em, baby!” before each show, and I’ll never forget the way he’d lie on the floor during our opening tableau, dealing with his back issues. That man was a class act through and through.

As I look back on my time in Into the Woods, I’m amazed at how much I learned – not just about the craft of musical theater, but about myself as an artist. That show set the bar so high, and I’ve been chasing that level of excellence ever since. But you know what they say, “If the end is right, it justifies the beans.” And for me, Into the Woods was definitely worth every bean.

Memories of a Magical Production

When I think about my time in Into the Woods, one thing stands out above all else: the sense of camaraderie and community amongst the cast. It was like we were a family, constantly looking out for one another and supporting each other through the ups and downs of the production.

Take, for example, the night when our very own Little Red Riding Hood, Danielle Ferland, broke her foot after a performance. She and I were close friends, and we used to race up the stairs to the dressing rooms every night. But one night, she slipped and fell, badly bruising her hip. I’ll never forget sitting there on the stoop, watching as the medic tended to her, and our co-star Bob Westenberg walked by, giving me that knowing look and saying, “So, it’s your big moment, kid, huh?” It was a bittersweet moment, but it just goes to show how we all looked out for one another.

And speaking of support, I’ll never forget the day that Stephen Sondheim himself came to our dressing room during the filming for the PBS Great Performances production. I had left the show in November, but came back in the spring to film, and when Sondheim complimented my performance, I was completely awestruck. I expected a note, some constructive criticism, but instead, he offered words of praise – and that was the greatest gift I could have ever received.

Of course, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. There were plenty of technical mishaps and behind-the-scenes challenges that we had to navigate. I remember one time when the stage effects malfunctioned, and we had to improvise. Dick Cavett, who was playing the Narrator, just jumped right in and started tapping and taking questions from the audience. It was pure magic, and just another example of how this cast could roll with the punches.

But through it all, the music and the storytelling kept us grounded. One of my favorite moments was when we first heard “No One Is Alone” in rehearsals. I was sitting on the edge of the stage, sight-reading the song, and tears just burst out of my eyes. The sheer beauty and emotion of that piece was overwhelming. And of course, “Quick little birds flick through the ashes” – that tongue-twister of a line was always a highlight for me, both in rehearsals and on stage.

Looking back, I realize how lucky I was to be a part of such an iconic production. The way the cast and crew came together, the depth of the material, and the legendary status of the show – it all added up to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. Whenever the Into the Woods cast gets together, it’s like no time has passed. We’re still a family, still connected by the magic of that show. It’s a bond that will never be broken.

Sondheim’s Impact and the Legacy of Into the Woods

As I reflect on my time in Into the Woods, one thing that stands out is the profound impact that Stephen Sondheim had on all of us. The man was a true genius, and working with him was both intimidating and awe-inspiring.

I remember one particular moment during the rehearsal process when Sondheim came to us and talked about the meaning behind “No One Is Alone.” He explained that the song wasn’t about being alone, but rather about how our actions and choices affect those around us. It was a revelation, and it completely changed the way we approached that number. Suddenly, it was no longer just a beautiful ballad, but a profound meditation on the interconnectedness of humanity.

Sondheim had a way of elevating the most ordinary moments into something extraordinary. Take, for example, the line “You move just a finger, say the slightest word, something’s bound to linger, be heard.” It’s a simple statement, but it speaks volumes about the power of our choices and the ripple effects they can have. I find myself coming back to that sentiment time and time again, both in my personal and professional life.

And then there was Sondheim’s ear for language. The man was a wordsmith par excellence, and his lyrics were like poetry. I can still hear the lilting, almost musical quality of “If the end is right, it justifies the beans” or the playful, rhythmic cadence of “Quick little birds flick through the ashes.” It’s no wonder that Into the Woods has become a touchstone for so many theater lovers – the sheer artistry of Sondheim’s craft is simply mesmerizing.

But beyond the technical mastery, what I find most inspiring about Sondheim’s work is the way it grapples with the complexities of the human experience. Into the Woods doesn’t shy away from the darker, more ambiguous aspects of life. It embraces the messiness, the disappointments, the unintended consequences of our actions. And in doing so, it reveals a deeper truth about the human condition.

In a way, that’s what makes Into the Woods such an enduring classic. It’s not just a show about fairy tales and happy endings – it’s a show about the journey, the challenges, the hard-won lessons that shape us as individuals and as a society. And as I look back on my time in that production, I realize that the show’s legacy extends far beyond the stage.

The connections we made, the insights we gained, the memories we cherished – all of it has become a part of who we are. And when I see the show being performed today, or hear that familiar music, it’s like being transported back to that magical time. The laughter, the tears, the sense of community – it’s all still there, a testament to the timeless power of great storytelling.

So, as I look back on my Into the Woods experience, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude. Not just for the opportunity to be a part of such an iconic production, but for the way it has continued to shape and inspire me, even years later. It’s a reminder that the true magic of the theater lies not just in what happens on stage, but in the indelible mark it leaves on our hearts and minds. And that, my friends, is the real story behind the curtain.

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