Last year, a critically acclaimed and much beloved revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Tony Award-winning “Into the Woods” hit Broadway, and the show was as big a hit as when it originally hit the stage in 1987.
The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales, with everyone from Little Red to Cinderella to Jack and the Beanstalk exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests as fairy tales go awry.
A touring production of the show, directed by Lear deBessonet and with some of the big stars who played New York, is heading to the Kennedy Center from February 23 to March 19.
Tony winner Stephanie J. Block returns as The Baker’s Wife, and Montego Glover as The Witch, Sebastian Arcelus as The Baker and Gavin Creel as Cinderella’s Prince/Wolf all reprise their roles as well.
Another who made the transfer from Broadway to the tour is Kennedy Kanagawa, who “plays” Milky White, the famous cow Jack trades for beans in hopes of finding riches. Unlike past productions of the show, where the cow is represented by a person in a cow suit or a cow-type prop, this version uses a lifelike cardboard puppet that Kanagawa controls. And he gets some of the biggest applause in the show.
“It’s not like a sock puppet or a marionette where there is a set style and language, it’s just this unique puppet, with a handle on the head and a handle on the butt, and it’s my job to make her come to life,” Kanagawa says. “It’s so much fun to do and the audience response has been so special. I’m so grateful this has kept going.”
Kanagawa became involved with the show when his friend, James Ortiz, who had been hired to design the puppets, reached out to see if he would be available for the original two-week run planned, not knowing it would run for months and head out on a tour.
What’s surprising is that Kanagawa, a New York-based actor who grew up in Great Falls, Virginia, had no prior experience puppeteering.
“This is my first time, and it’s been a very fun, crazy whirlwind process, and a very interesting learning curve,” he says. “The most challenging aspect of this track has been the stamina and endurance needed — it’s so physically demanding and not something my body was used to. When we created the movement, we didn’t have in mind the long-term effects as it was only supposed to go two weeks.”
Milky White’s puppet was only supposed to last for two weeks also, so Ortiz needed to create a second version (called Milky White 2.0) to ensure it lasts throughout the tour.
“When we were trying to establish the movement vocabulary, James and I recognized early on that cows in real life are kind of boring,” Kanagawa says. “We thought it would be more interesting to model her physicality off dogs and cats to an extent. It was our goal to help endear Milky White to the audience so the stakes of Jack selling her and then reuniting paid off more.”
“Into the Woods” is a reimagining of favorite fairy tales with lots of twists, and that makes this a show with lots of surprises and laughs, Kanagawa says.
“We go from these light stories that have a moral to really raw, real messages that are deep about life,” he says. “There are some really beautiful and resonate messages in this story that are about community and coming together and moving forward through crisis and healing, that are really great to hear in times like now.”
Tickets for “Into the Woods” start at $45 and can be purchased here.
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