Sara Bareilles and ‘Into the Woods’ Co-Stars Honor Stephen Sondheim With ‘Glorious’ Broadway Revival: ‘He’s Smiling Down on Us’

It’s been 20 years since “Into the Woods” was last on Broadway, but it’s the first time that Stephen Sondheim won’t be there in person to witness his show being revived for new audiences.

“I think he’s smiling down on us from above,” T’Anika Gibson, who plays Cinderella’s stepsister Lucinda, told Variety on opening night. “To share this show after COVID happened, he’d want nothing more than to share this story.”

After a smash, two-week run as part of the New York City Center’s Encores series earlier this year, “Into the Woods” moved to the St. James Theater on Broadway for an eight-week engagement, with many of its A-list cast, like Sara Bareilles, Gavin Creel and Julia Lester, and creatives returning. For the Broadway run, Brian d’Arcy James, Patina Miller, Phillipa Soo and Joshua Henry joined the fairytale musical that mashes together stories like Cinderella, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk.

This revival, however, places the emphasis on Sondheim’s music and James Lapine‘s story by putting the orchestra on stage with the actors and forgoing any sets or special effects.

“This is about really stripping away everything but the music,” Bareilles told Variety. “It’s about music and performance. It really allows [Sondheim’s] genius to be the star of the show. It’s been a really beautiful experience to watch these songs come to life. Nothing is hidden about it, it’s all front and center in a really glorious way. James Lapine shared that he thinks Stephen would be really overwhelmed by this production in a beautiful way.”

“Lapine wrote us a note and said, ‘I know Stephen’s smiling down on all of you,’” Brooke Ishibashi who plays Cinderella’s other stepsister Florinda, told Variety. “I feel like Stephen’s here with us. I hope we’re honoring him by bringing people to see his story and share his message.”

The packed opening night brought in a star-studded crowd of Broadway and Hollywood stars, like “Stranger Things” lead Gaten Matarazzo, Tony winner James Iglehart, “Rent” star Taye Diggs, Disney composer Alan Menken and more.

Michael R. Jackson, who created and just won two Tonys for “A Strange Loop,” said that Broadway is entering a new age after Sondheim’s death.

“It feels like a new era dawning,” Jackson told Variety. “We’ve had so many different eras in musical theater. This is a new era. He leaves behind such an incredible and important legacy of excellence, and I’m glad we continue to see his works be celebrated.”

While the hit songs of “Into the Woods,” like “No One Is Alone,” “Agony” and “I Know Things Now,” received rapturous applause, one of the biggest breakout stars may be a bovine puppet named Milky White. Kennedy Kanagawa, who handles the cow and other puppets, brings out some of the most lifelike and charming expressions, despite Milky White’s face, ribs and udder being made out of cardboard.

“The puppetry in this show is next level,” Henry told Variety. “I’ve never seen anything like it contribute to such an important story. I asked Kennedy how long he’d been doing this and he said he learned at Encores. I thought he’d been doing it for 10 years. The way he handles Milky White, you look at that cow and you see the purity and innocence of someone before they enter the world. You see yourself in that cow; I see myself in in Milky White.”

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