The classic INTO THE WOODS from the creative minds of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine has been having a successful, standing-ovation-filled run at the Ahmanson Theatre (closing May 14). With Sondheim and Lapine’s blessings, Fiasco Theater has re-interpreted their 1986 musical into a no-frills, bare-bones version that some say is the most relatable retelling of familiar INTO THE WOODS‘ fairy tales.
We had the chance to chat with Evan Harrington, who embodies the role of the upstanding Baker.
Thank you, Evan, for taking the time for this interview.
You started this touring production of INTO THE WOODS last November. How did you first get involved with Fiasco Theater?
My involvement with Fiasco Theater began with my audition for INTO THE WOODS! I had, of course, heard of the production and the company, but never had a chance to see any of their work. And when I heard they were sending this version of the show on the road, and I jumped at the chance to do it!
You had played the role of ‘Baker’ before in the New Repertory Theatre’s 2005 production. What was it like putting on the baker’s apron after over ten years?
It is always strange and exciting to revisit characters you’ve played before after a few years. I think having grown up over the years (sorta, ha-ha) puts a totally different perspective into your choices on stage. I feel like now, I’m at a good age to really understand more of what the Baker and his Wife are dealing with in the play. Every time I’ve been involved in INTO THE WOODS, it’s been a totally different experience; this is actually the third time I’m playing the Baker. In addition to New Rep’s 2005 version, it was the last show I performed in my senior year of college. So I’ve played this role over a long span of my life, and my own life experiences continue to influence the way I play the role. I feel lucky to have played the Baker over many years in my life, for sure!
How has your interpretation of ‘Baker’ evolved over the long span of your life from your life experiences and your profusion of theatrical roles?
My version of the Baker has certainly changed with each time I’ve done it. I feel more grounded now as an actor and a person, so I hope that comes across in this current version. I think as a college student, I was just jazzed to be doing a Sondheim show! Stephen Sondheim was our hero back then, and certainly continues to be for me! It was the last time I got to perform with all of the graduating class I went through theatre school with – our ‘last hurrah’ before choosing our next step; so there was a youthful sentimentality we all had for that production. As I’ve gotten older and had opportunities to work on many projects over the years, I feel like the experience I’ve put under my belt has made the Baker more relatable to me. Hopefully as you get older, you gain some wisdom and knowledge of the way the world works. And that is part of the journey the Baker is on – finding himself in the face of adversity. The best kind of theatre!
What it easy for you to adapt your ‘Baker’ from the more traditional presentation you were involved with in 2005 to the current Fiasco’s interpretation of INTO THE WOODS?
It was ‘difficulty easy.’ Ha-ha! This production is so different in terms of how we put the show together, that it all felt new in many ways. For example, the staging and movement and instrumentation is so unique. The advantage of having the music/lyrics in my memory was super helpful in allowing me to focus on adapting to the Fiasco Theater version.- But, I also think some other shows I’ve been involved with recently (ONCE, PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM) had set me up to fit well in the world this show lives in (i.e., playing instruments, using the actors and props to create the play, etc.)
Do you, yourself, actually bake?
Nope! Ha! Not really. I make a mean Thanksgiving dinner once a year, but that’s about it for me in the kitchen.
Have you worked with any of your current cast and crew of INTO THE WOODS before, by chance?
I had only worked with Darron West, our sound designer (Great guy, even though he’s a Red Sox fan) from our time with THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM, but I hadn’t worked with any of the actors before. I have known Ms. Stephanie Umoh as a friend for many years, and have admired her work. But this was our first time working together! Everyone else was a relatively new face to me. But this theatre biz is so small, we all had several mutual pals…
What’s your “I love this moment” in this show?
I love anything Darick Pead (our Milky White/Rapunzel’s Prince/Florinda) does. He’s a really funny dude and he regularly cracks me up! But specifically, his melodramatic Shakespearean cow death is particularly sublime.
Any Ahmanson audience responses so far took you by surprise?
I’ve been humbled to have so many huge fans of the show itself say how this particular production is the best version they’ve seen; how it feels accessible to them in a way INTO THE WOODS hadn’t felt before.
And for people who haven’t ever seen the show before – They seem to really be excited by the way we present the play and how we all make it happen with ‘just the actors’ doing all the ensemble work and music playing.
It’s rewarding to have people say they didn’t know what to expect at first, and then tell us we drew them in to the show. And by the end, they’ve taken the journey with us! That’s why I love live theatre. You can feel the audience reactions. That’s the good stuff…
I’m sure you can hear the audience laughing from the stage (i.e., “Agony”). Can you actually hear when they cry? Like maybe during “Moments in the Woods” or “No One Is Alone”?
The audience reaction when hilarious things are happening is certainly more apparent than when you’re going through some of the more delicate moments of the show. But you can feel it when you’re up there and you’ve got the audience with you in the more emotionally charged moments. I don’t hear or see them crying often, but when you’re trying to be ‘in that moment’ – the audience’s attention and silence are just as telling as the laughs.
You’ve been in shows on Broadway and all over the US. Have you noticed any notable differences from audience responses in different cities?
I like bringing shows on the road to different cities; because in NYC, you may have lots of people come see the show, but not everyone can make it to NY to see shows. The NY audiences are excited and ready to see everything there is to see. It is so electric to work in NYC. There is nothing like it.
Bringing shows to the rest of the country is a whole different excitement. People across the country are excited for us to be in their town – where they can do dinner and a show in their hometown!
And the extra perk of being able to see friends and family who live in the far reaches of the country is amazing. Many of my friends wouldn’t have seen this show and many others I’ve done if they were just performing in NY. So I like touring for that reason. It brings theatre to a wider audience, and it allows me to see friends and allows them see my work! Win-win!
Could you describe a ‘typical’ New Yorker reaction vs a Los Angeles one you could easily pick out of a crowd?
I don’t think I could say if there was any particular difference, except in LA, people are more sun-kissed! Theatre goers usually love theatre to begin with, so it doesn’t matter where you’re from.
Any subtle dissimilarities in Broadway audience reactions from Off-Broadway audiences?
I think with Broadway audiences, you get both the theatre-savvy and the tourist crowd, so it’s more of a cross section of reactions. I sometimes feel like Off-Broadway shows are where you’ll see some of the more risky new works that might eventually find their way to a Broadway house. So really savvy theatre goers are checking out all that that has to offer. Some of the most exciting theatre happens Off-(or Off-Off) Broadway!
What cities will you be ‘Baker-ing’ in next?
We finish up this week in LA, then off to Dallas, TX to close out this amazing tour! We close up shop May 28th at the Winspear Opera House.
What’s on the horizon for Evan Harrington?
First on the horizon is a little mini-vacation – doing a road trip to see some live music, some MLB games, and visit family back home in Rochester, NY. Then I’ll get back to NYC to (hopefully) book that next gig!
Thank you again, Evan! And congratulations on a wonderful, most entertaining trip through THE WOODS!
To check ticket availability through May 14, 2017, log onto www.centertheatregroup.org