Few theater performances are as indelible as the original Broadway production of “Into the Woods,” which raised a generation of theater fans through a legendary American Playhouse recording that first aired on PBS in 1991. In the years since, the performances of that cast, led by Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason, have risen to icon status — which makes it particularly tough for an actor in a new staging to try to craft her own take on one of those roles.
That was the dilemma facing Patina Miller, the Tony winner (“Pippin”) and star of “Power Book III: Raising Kanan,” who stepped into shoes first filled by Peters to play the Witch in the popular new Broadway revival of “Into the Woods.”
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“It’s something that’s been done iconically by these wonderful women, and I wanted to do my own thing,” Miller said on the new episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast. “I tried to honor what Bernadette had done, but then try to figure out: Okay, what can I say now, so many years later?”
Miller first played the Witch in a short run of performances at the Hollywood Bowl in 2019. The new Broadway production, she said, gave her a chance to dig deeper into her own personal connection to the part of the Witch: Motherhood.
The Witch of “Into the Woods” is a mother herself — to Rapunzel, whom she locks in a tower. As the mother of a young daughter, Miller said she understands the impulse.
“I feel this strong desire to protect my daughter more than anything, and to shield her from all of the things in life,” she explained. “There is this lioness within me that knows what the world is, how beautiful it is, but how horrible it can be. To watch this young person grow up with this brightness and joy, and to know what the world is — It makes you emotional. You’re excited for the journey, but you’re terrified. So for me, the witch is about tapping into that.”
She added, “At the heart of it, she’s just a mother who wants to be with her daughter more than anything and who wants to keep her safe. And in doing that, she does some really stupid things.”
Also on the new “Stagecraft,” Miller discussed the surprising similarities between the Witch and Raquel, the character she plays on “Raising Kanan.” She also revealed how Broadway has changed since her turn in the 2013 revival of “Pippin” and talked about how hard — and rewarding — it can be to perform Stephen Sondheim’s work.
“This shit is hard! This is not easy!” she said with a laugh. “But I think once you understand the whole method behind it, and once you understand what he’s trying to say and how genius the orchestration is that supports the lyrics, it just opens up this whole world of possibility of what you as a performer can bring to the material.”
To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.
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