Welcome to this month’s Musical Theatre Monday! 30 years ago today, The Cosby Show‘s Phylicia Rashad was playing the role of the Witch in the Original Broadway Production of Sondheim’s much-beloved Into The Woods (1987). In honor of this piece of trivia, I’m offering — for subscribers who comment below — an audio of Rashad in the part originated on the New York stage by Bernadette Peters, along with recordings featuring two other ’80s sitcom leading ladies: Broadway vet Nancy Dussault (Too Close For Comfort) and rocker Ellen Foley (Night Court).
Now, before I get to sharing, I want to note that, contrary to my favorite Sondheim works, Into The Wood‘s intent is explicit in the text and easy-to-understand upon first blush, making it more accessible to most theatergoers, and therefore, often celebrated because of its lesser thematic nuance. I think Sondheim created much more complex, fascinating scores… To this show’s credit, though, I think it both musically — and dramatically — features some of the richest character material of his career, and it’s worthy of consideration for this fact alone.
Ready for excerpts of each? For the purposes of this post, I’m sharing all three of these divas’ takes on “Last Midnight,” not only because I like the structure, but also because — as with most star roles — there tends to be one number/moment that we, as studied theatre nerds, use as a quick benchmark when adjudicating a player’s interpretation of a part. For the Witch, I always think of “Last Midnight.” Here’s Phylicia Rashad, taken from a live April 1988 audio.
Here’s Nancy Dussault, from Too Close For Comfort (and in the decade prior, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, which we covered here back in 2014) — taken from a December 1988 audio.
And, lastly, here’s Ellen Foley, who starred one season on Night Court, in an August 1989 audio. Foley originated the role in the 1986 Old Globe Theatre World Premiere Production (two audios of which are also available for subscribers who comment below with interest).
Come back next month for another Musical Theatre post! And tune in tomorrow for more Mad About You!