Dallas — Patrick Mulryan has been stealing from giants for quite some time now as one of the original cast members of Fiasco Theater Company’s unique reworking of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s slightly fractured fairy tale classic, Into the Woods. Coming off a production of the show in London, he joins the tour in progress for its last leg as the production makes its way to the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Broadway Series, on stage from May 16 through May 28.
We caught up with Patrick between performances to talk about what makes this version of the show tick, what audiences can expect, and what it’s like to perform for Sondheim.
TheaterJones: This version of Into the Woods is definitely different than audiences are used to seeing, especially on a tour. Having been in the original cast, what is it like taking this show on the road?
Patrick Mulryan: It’s interesting, because I just did it in London in this tiny, intimate house off West End in London, and now we’re doing it in these very large Broadway road houses. But what’s so heartening is to see this production that I helped originate, that I was one of the original collaborators on, to see how it still translates to all these different markets and has been well-received in every stop.
It’s wonderful to see how the audience is very ready, willing, and excited to make that imaginative leap to fill in all the gaps. We ask in this production that the audience to meet us halfway — I can wiggle a feather duster and pretend it’s a hen, but I need you as the audience to also be on board with that kind of pretending. It’s almost like we ask adults to be like children on a playground, and use their imaginations to create magic out of nothing with us.
What’s it like being part of such a dynamic, fast-moving cast?
Like Fiasco says, we’re an actor-driven theater, and we’re actors who want to have fun. Everybody is busy the entire time, and even when you’re not in a scene you’re supporting it from the sidelines through your voice, an instrument — we’re all pretty much on stage the whole time. You feel like even a scene you’re not in, you’re helping to support and create that and it’s really thrilling.
I love everybody who is in the show and all their performances, and it’s just a joy to get to watch them every night. That creates a great rapport among cast members, and it reflects the theme of the show in that it’s all about community and the stories we tell and what we pass down.
You’ve interacted with Sondheim and Lapine quite a few times during the course of your work on this show. Have they shared their thoughts?
Part of what I think Lapine and Sondheim like about our production is that it brings the language to the fore in a way because there is not as much distraction. As gorgeous as the original lush orchestrations are, our pared down orchestrations really bring the acting and the language to the forefront. And the fact that we are always a community on stage together, we’re trying to literalize that metaphor and have content and form match up, of which Sondheim is a big proponent.
When we did the original production at McCarter Theatre in New Jersey, the day [Sondheim] came and met all of us, and laughed and cried with us, the 12-year-old theater geek in me was freaking out! Lapine has also been really involved and incredibly supportive. They’re just really awesome guys who love the work they do and are excited when other people are excited about it and staying true to the core of it.
You mentioned that you were one of the original collaborators on the project — tell us about that experience.
One of the things Fiasco as a company likes to do is look at a piece of text and say, if we have one thing in this show, what do we need? Since this was Fiasco’s first musical, the answer was, well, a piano. Then we thought about what else we would need, and slowly but surely we talked about the whole story and it started generating this idea of an attic — not a literal attic, but like an attic of memory where you find a bunch of stuff from a generation that you never got to meet.
So we started thinking what could lend itself to this story. We would come into rehearsal every day and sometimes the directors would have an idea of how they wanted things to go; other times they would be like, “Okay, we don’t know how we want to do Little Red and Granny, so let’s do a little post-it brainstorm session.” Then we would figure out from those ideas what we wanted to try, essentially brainstorming for each scene to decide what worked best for the whole piece. We built it collaboratively and collectively through the whole rehearsal process.
It sounds like there is the potential for a lot of special moments in the show, but what do you find to be your standout favorite? And do you have a different favorite among the different casts?
I have a lot of different favorite moments, but one I always come back to is the relationship between Jack and Milky White. Our cow is played by a person, which is a huge blessing as someone who plays Jack, because I have someone to act with! I had the same Milky White the whole time [in the original and London casts] until now, and they’re very different but both incredible and bring very different things to it. That offers me a chance to play and re-investigate this relationship.
So, one of my favorite moments is “I Guess This is Goodbye,” where Jack has to sell Milky White and then sings this beautiful little snippet of a song. It’s a beautiful melody and it’s a really lovely, poignant goodbye. (Fun fact — it’s the only song Sondheim has ever written that doesn’t rhyme!)
Do you think that this concept of actor-driven theater is something we’ll continue to see on a large-scale?
I think people find it refreshing, especially when it comes to revivals. But then, you know, all those big ‘80s and ‘90s musicals are back again, too. But it could be that people want a balance between a big huge production and something that is more stripped down. It’s definitely been something happening in New York with different companies, and that is gaining traction. Maybe it will become a trend! And I hope it continues, because it’s something that I really love doing.
» Don’t forget, Industry Night for Into the Woods is Tuesday, May 23 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 for grand terrace or dress circle, or $60 for orchestra, terrace or mezzanine. Join us for a post-show party with members of the cast, and come dressed as your favorite fairy tale character for our costume contest.