Days in the Woods

By Bell, John | The Sondheim Review, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview
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Days in the Woods


Bell, John, The Sondheim Review


Reminiscences from Into the Woods' early days

Having been introduced to Stephen Sondheim's music while performing in a revue of his songs in college, I wrote a fan letter and sent it to Broadway's Booth Theatre during the run of Sunday in the Park with George, hoping it might find its way to him. Lo and behold, a few weeks later I received a short note from Sondheim telling me he was flattered by my remarks and inviting me to New York to meet with him - which I did.

Two years later, I flew to San Diego to begin graduate study in musical theatre at San Diego State University. The day I got off the plane, I read a newspaper announcement that Sondheim and James Lapine would be in San Diego for a pre-Broadway run of their new musical, Into the Woods, at the Old Globe Theatre. Needing a professional internship as a requirement for my graduate program, I asked Sondheim if I could intern for him. He politely reported that since his work was so personal, he didn't take on interns. But he suggested there might be another department at the theatre with which I could work and get access to the production process. I took his advice and, although the administration at the Globe was pretty tight-lipped about the production, when I mentioned my interest in writing and teaching, they connected me with their education department. I was eventually approved to serve an internship helping to construct a 45-minute presentation about Into the Woods that would tour local schools. As part of my internship, I was permitted to attend rehearsals. What follows are selected entries from a casual journal I kept in late 1986 and early 1987. In hindsight, this experience stands out as one of my most palpable learning experiences. Even as a mere observer - or maybe because of it - I learned more about the development of a new musical than I could have ever imagined. And when I attend a production of Into the Woods, I remember those formative weeks at the Old Globe Theatre and marvel at the process and the creativity involved. (These entries are in chronological order, although I failed to record the dates precisely.)

Early November 1986. Today the company of Into the Woods, led by director and librettist James Lapine, arrived. They were welcomed by Old Globe Artistic Director Jack O'Brien who reported that all rehearsals would be closed. Glad I had already been approved for the internship. Sondheim did not come with the company. He's to arrive at a later date. James Lapine introduced his cast to the Old Globe staff. They all seem like fun people. Rehearsals begin tomorrow. from class today. Rehearsal was already in progress. Sure enough, there was someone out in the lobby restricting entrance. At first, he didn't know who I was and wouldn't let me in but when he checked with the Education Department he added me to the list and let me in. Rehearsal was fascinating. From the little bit I saw, the piece has a very contemporary tone. This is particularly true of Little Red Riding Hood and the Baker's Wife. Both are a bit sassy and snide. The Educational Department got a copy of the working script, and I can't wait to read it.

Early November. Chip Zien [the Baker] and Joanna Gleason [the Baker's Wife] are wonderful. There's also a young guy, Ben Wright, who plays Jack. He seems a bit nervous, but I can tell he's going to be real good in the role. I think this may be his first big show. I also recognize Barbara Bryne from Sunday in the Park with George. She's hilarious as Jack's Mother. Paul Gemignani, the musical director, is working the music in another room, so I haven't really been able to observe much of that part of the process. Too bad; that's the stuff I really want to see. Next week, they'll start integrating music and scene work in the theatre. I can't wait for that.

Mid-November. Observing this process is fascinating. Every day scenes are being added and deleted. Today the Three Little Pigs were cut. And I hear the title of the show keeps bouncing back and forth from Into the Woods to Our of the Woods.

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