Chuck Wagner Shares His 5 Most Treasured Memories from the Original Broadway Production of Into the Woods
July 30th, 2015
by Chuck Wagner
Chuck Wagner is ready to take you on the musical journey of a lifetime with his 54 Below show Living The Dream on August 4. The B’way alum, whose credits include starring roles in Les Miz, Three Musketeers, Beauty and the Beast & Jekyll & Hyde, continues to reach new fans every year thanks to his dashing performance as Rapunzel’s Prince in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s beloved musical Into the Woods—don’t even act for a second like you can’t do several of his line readings from that live reunion DVD.
Since the musical means so much to so many, and since Wagner was an original Broadway cast member, BroadwayBox asked him to share with us some great backstage stories. Read on as Chuck Wagner shares his five most treasured Into the Woods memories.
1. Being Cast
After my time at USC in Los Angeles, I began stretching my theatrical wings, first as Lancelot in Camelot at Sacramento Music Circus, and then as Curly in Oklahoma! at San Diego's Starlight Bowl. I had arranged an audition in LA with James Lapine for Into the Woods. It went well, but I heard nothing back.
Around that time, I was lobbying to replace Howard McGillin in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, hoping to do the West Coast run; I was flown to New York, given great tickets to see Drood and then I auditioned. Alas Drood was not in the cards, but while I was in town I luckily managed to get another audition for Into the Woods and this time Stephen Sondheim was there. I was called back and then cast in the World Premiere in San Diego, just up the hill in Balboa Park from where I had just played Oklahoma!
It was an amazing experience. I'll always be grateful to Edwin Drood for not casting me!
2. Exploring the Wolf
While in San Diego, Stephen and James were working hard putting the show together and explored a few options regarding The Wolf. Both Princes, myself and Ken Marshall (of Krull fame) gave it a try, and our Narrator at the time, John Cunningham, too. Having the Mysterious Man play The Wolf came off a bit creepy, so thankfully the Wolf/Prince combination evolved into one of my favorite roles ever.
I learned a lot watching Robert Westenberg grow in the role. Plus, it's the only costume I've worn that was anatomically correct! It was a treat playing with Danielle Ferland in New York, and the amazing Tracy Katz on tour.
It makes me smile to think that for the film it took both Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Kirk to do what I did on the road!
3. “Agony” Arrives
Early in rehearsal Stephen brought us the handwritten sheet music for our Princely duet “Agony” and we were delighted. He explained to me that characters like the Princes, like Carl Magnus and Miles Gloriosus come relatively easily to him. James stressed playing them honestly and sincerely, to let the comedy come without punching the jokes. I loved the song and especially the Act II reprise, which sadly was absent in the movie. Pamela Winslow has an amazing scream. In concert now I sing both together, a duet with myself!
4. Cinderella's Prince & Dick Cavett
The first time I went on as Cinderella's Prince and the Wolf was when Bob Westenberg finally took a week's vacation. Our narrator at the time was Dick Cavett, who was covering Tom Aldredge while he was out working. Dick was a huge star and an amazing gentleman, and he took a picture of me as the Prince right before my first entrance après Wolf. Mr. Cavett has a quiet intensity, and he blew my mind with a demonstration of his mastery of his chi. He's not very tall, and he told me to try to lift him off the ground. I took him by his arms and easily did so. Then he 'changed his energy' and told me to try again. I gave it all I had and he was immovable. I could not lift him at all. I am still in awe of his power, and will always treasure working with him.
5. Working with the Best
My time in Into the Woods was an amazing training ground working with the best. Stephen and James continue to inspire, and sharing the stage with that fantastic cast, especially Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason, was a daily lesson in power, grace, subtlety and poise.
Later on tour, I was blessed to learn from jazz legend Cleo Laine and comic genius Charlotte Rae. Plus, working with Douglas Sills as my brother Prince was a true joy. Into the Woods is filled with life lessons and I'm still learning!
I continue to share those lessons in my show Living the Dream, which debuted at sea in the Walt Disney Theatre aboard the Disney Wonder and plays 54 Below on August 4 at 7:00 pm.