The Hidden Meaning in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods You Never Knew About

Seth Rudetsky   The Hidden Meaning in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods You Never Knew About
 
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares more tales from Playbill Travel’s Iceland cruise, including how Rob McClure met Sondheim and learned the lyrical secret in “Moments in the Woods.”
Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim

Yay! I’m back in one of my favorite places; on the front porch of the Anchor Inn in Provincetown. If you’ve read Seth’s Broadway Diary Volume 1–3, you know that almost all of my summer columns begin from that location. How do you read all them, you ask? Why, by ordering them right here.

Anyhoo, I’m here this week doing a show with Judy Kuhn tonight, Adam Pascal tomorrow, and Christine Ebersole Thursday/Friday, and then Christine and I hit Nantucket! Check out the lineup here.

At Judy’s show tonight, we’re going to bring up her Fun Home co-star Beth Malone (who just closed in Angels in America) so they can sing together! And last night we added a song to the show we’re going to do again tonight; the Peregrine Theater Company, which is doing Hair this season in Provincetown, lent us some of their amazing singers who learned the backup to “Nobody’s Side,” a song from Chess Judy hasn’t sung since the show closed 30 years ago. She was nervous doing it for the first time in front of people last night…so I added some fun pressure and did a Facebook Live video! Turns out, they were all amazing! (And I was the one who actually hit a wrong chord in the middle of the song. #karma) Watch it here…then come to the show tonight!

I got back from Playbill Travel’s cruise in Iceland just a few days ago and realized I left a few stories out of my last column. First, I had pointed out (with empirical evidence) that the people of Iceland have endured severe harshness to survive in their climate and, boy, you can tell from casual conversation. When I got off the cruise, the cab driver asked me if I was going back later. I told him that my fabulous cruise was over. He nodded and commented, “Yep. Everything must end.” I get it. Life is bleak.

Seth Rudetsky_BOHS Iceland

I’d also love to share this craziness that happened on the ship:
July 6 was James’ birthday, so his mom asked if the ship would bring him some birthday cake. She got four slices delivered to our room and we decided to wait until after the show to share them with everyone. So, around 11PM that night I left our room with a tray full of delicious cake slices for the performers on the cruise. One of the guys who works on the ship saw me in the hall and offered to carry the tray. I told him I was fine carrying it myself. He insisted and I realized he might get in trouble if his boss saw me walking down the hallway carrying a tray with him nearby so I gave it to him. I told him I was walking to the front lounge to join my friends and I walked a little ahead. I got to the lounge, turned around…and he was gone. And the tray was as well. I asked various people who worked on the ship to help and no one seemed to know who he was/where he went. It sounds like a scene from The Shining, but it was more like a scene from Laverne and Shirley without any laugh track. Or any laughs. He must have thought I was carrying a tray of my room service food that I didn’t want so he took it from me…and kindly threw it all out. Happy Birthday?

Anyhoo, speaking of the cruise, I had Rob McClure come on my SiriusXM show, Seth Speaks. He had so many great stories about his career! He told us that show that changed his life was Sweeney Todd. He saw a regional production of it when he was a teenager and was completely blown away by it, especially the big reveal near the end of the show. He was so excited to think that there was an entire audience coming the next night who would experience the reveal together and he, therefore, decided he had to come back. He continued to do that for weeks. He loved the show but he especially loved watching the audience experience the show. He was there so much that the cast eventually got him a show jacket!

Rob McClure in <i>Honeymoon in Vegas</i> on Broadway
Rob McClure in Honeymoon in Vegas on Broadway Joan Marcus

Years later, he was starring in Honeymoon In Vegas and came up on the onstage elevator for his (amazing) entrance, turned around and suddenly saw Sondheim himself sitting in the audience! He recognized him because Sondheim was wearing the exact same Sweeney Todd show jacket. #Falsehood. (That last part about the jacket is not true.) But Rob did indeed see him, freaked out internally… but kept going. After the show…Sondheim didn’t come backstage. Rob was devastated…until he got an email from him! For rizzle!

Sondheim apologized for not being able to come backstage and wrote that Rob’s opening number made Sondheim want to stay in that theatre forever. Amazing! Rob then wrote back a thank you email and mentioned in passing that he likes to write. Sondheim then wrote that he should come over to dinner and talk about writing! Can you imagine!?!?! During the dinner, Rob told Sondheim his favorite lyric was from “Moments in the Woods”:

Must it all be either less or more?
Either plain or grand?
Is it always "or?"
Is it never "and?"
That's what woods are for
For those moments in the woods

Sondheim told him that he particularly liked the double meaning in the lyrics. Rob was like “…what?” And Sondheim told him he was referring to:
Is it always "or?"
Is it never "and?"
That's what woulds are for
For those moments in the woods

Rob then checked the score and told him that it’s written as “woods.” And Sondheim told him that was because “woods” is what the Baker’s Wife is saying. But it was written so the audience could hear either one. Wowza! Who has the energy/intellect to write on so many different levels!?!?! #NotMe

Anyhoo, Rob is obsessed with lyrics as evidenced by this performance he did in his act on the cruise!

When Rob was first starting out, he won the “Rising Star” award at the Paper Mill Playhouse and decided to take a job in the box office with the naïve thought that someone on the creative team of a production would see him there and think, “He’s got so much energy! We should hire that guy!” And, actually, that’s basically what happened!

They were doing a production of I’m Not Rappaport that needed a non-Equity understudy and they offered it to Rob. Rob told them that the understudy position paid $200 a week but he was making $400 a week in the box office. He therefore asked if he could keep his box office job and understudy. They said yes! Near the end of the run, the late Roy Miller told him that the play was transferring to Broadway and the entire cast was going with it—including Rob, which meant that he’d get his Equity card!

Rob also told us that the other guys in the cast knew Ben Vereen, who played Midge in the play, missed singing so they would often visit his dressing room and sing a cappella arrangements of songs just so that he would join in on. At the end of the Broadway run, Ben told them that he was booked at Kutchers in the Catskills and wanted to know if they’d join him and do all those songs they did backstage. Suddenly, they had an act and actually started touring it!

When Ben first asked them to join, he told them that he could list their names separately or they could come up with a group name. Right at that moment, the assistant stage manager came around asking for people’s wallets, jewelry, etc. that would be stored during the show. (If you don’t know, you usually get a knock on your dressing room door before the show from the assistant stage manager who calls “Valuables!”) Ben heard that and suddenly said, “That’s it! Ben Vereen and The Valuables!” I told Rob they were lucky it wasn’t wardrobe walking around before they did a wash or they would have been called “Ben Vereen and the Dance Belts.”

All right, I’m gearing up for Adam Pascal’s show. We’re definitely going to do his amazing version of “Without You,” which he sang in Disaster! ending in a high B! I wish there was a way we could add “Sky High,” which we sang together. Here’s a clip of both of those songs and more from when we were on The Today Show. Enjoy and then peace out!

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