Thursday, June 21, 2007

Meet the Cast of "Into the Woods" – Part I

There’s an age-old theatrical saw that says that casting is 80% of the director’s job. If you cast a show well, the saying goes, everything else takes care of itself.

Well, not exactly. But it’s certainly true that casting well is a unique and invaluable skill. Director and choreographer Robin Arthur (along with musical director Jimmy Hicks) has cast Into the Woods brilliantly, with a mix of talented actors both proven and new.

Blog entries are not meant to go on forever—our blog chiefs are trying very hard to drum this into my thick skull. So today, I’m going to talk about six returning veterans, and then later I’ll focus on three incredible newcomers and our amazing supporting cast.

Steve Perigard and Rachel Abrams play the Baker and the Baker’s Wife, the two “everyman” characters around whom the fantasy swirls. Steve is Barksdale and Theatre IV’s not-so-secret weapon, our Associate Artistic Director. In many ways he is the artistic conscience of our theatres—the partner who is always advocating for more artistic risk-taking and professionalism. He is also an acclaimed actor, having appeared in leading roles in The Constant Wife, Fifth of July and They’re Playing Our Song at Barksdale; You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, Seussical the Musical and Honk! at Theatre IV; A Devil Inside and Fit to be Tied at Theatre Gym; and Avow and Bat Boy at the Firehouse.

Rachel works out of New York, and this is her second summer gig at Barksdale. Last season she performed in the Joplin track in our revival of Beehive at Steward School. Those who have been involved in Richmond theatre for a while will enjoy knowing that Rachel was “practically raised” by R L Rowsey after he moved from Richmond to Maryland, Rachel’s home turf, in the 1990s.

Barksdale cornerstone Robyn O’Neill returns to play the Witch, a role she’s been longing to play for years. Robyn is cursed with the reputation of being “Bruce’s favorite,” (sorry, Roby) because I cast her as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun, and Sonia Walsk in They’re Playing Our Song. “Richmond favorite” is a more apt descriptor. Outstanding directors Robin Arthur, Tom Width, John Glenn and Steve Perigard cast her in leading roles in Into the Woods, Seussical the Musical, Children of Eden, Floyd Collins, Me and My Girl, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, Sunday in the Park with George, and James Joyce’s The Dead.Visit Robyn's website

Audra Honaker is knockin’ ‘em dead every night (literally?) as Little Red Riding Hood. I think I’m right in crediting Susan Sanford for introducing Audra to the Richmond audience in Theatre IV’s production of The Secret Garden. I know that’s when I first had the pleasure of seeing Audra on stage, and subsequently wooed her for the role of Mary Warren in The Crucible here at Barksdale. Since then, Audra has become a Richmond All-Star, dazzling audiences in Brooklyn Boy and The 1940’s Radio Hour at Barksdale; The Miracle Worker and The Diary of Anne Frank at Swift Creek; and Seussical the Musical and Sing Down the Moon at Theatre IV.

It’s great to have Russell Rowland back on stage at Barksdale as Cinderella’s Prince and the Wolf. It’s hard to believe, but Russell started his career with us when he was a child. If memory serves, he was in 9th or 10th grade, somewhere in Chesterfield County Public Schools, when he auditioned with lots of other children for a Theatre IV production of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas. He was so tall, and sang with such a rich baritone, I cast him in the adult ensemble. It’s been all uphill from there. Russell played El Gallo in the national tour of The Fantasticks; Frank Butler in Annie Get Your Gun, the Captain in Anything Goes, Sir Francis Chesney in Where’s Charley?, Teddy in The Full Monty, and Valvert in Cyrano de Bergerac (all here at Barksdale); and Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, Lancelot in Camelot, and Tommy Albright in Brigadoon in regional theatres outside of Richmond.Visit Russell's website

Last but in many ways first is Ford Flannagan. Among the various talented cast members, Ford is the one I’ve known the longest (with Jackie Jones and Amy Hruska—we’ll talk about them later—tied for close second). Ford’s been working for Theatre IV for 28 years, but I actually met him when he was still in high school. Ford’s brother Alan, who began working with Theatre IV in ’76, had been a college buddy of mine in the early 70s at the University of Richmond. When U of R students would have theatre parties, Ford would occasionally accompany his brother. You seldom see Ford today without a GI haircut, but in those days, his hair was really long, cut well below his shoulders, very blond and very straight.

Ford may be playing the Mysterious Old Man and Narrator in Into the Woods, but in many ways he’s forever young. He’s probably in better shape than almost anyone else in the cast, and his fanciful personality keeps him eternally youthful. In fact, in the spring of ’08, he’ll be returning once again in the title role of Peter Pan at Theatre IV. Ford is another of Barksdale and Theatre IV’s not-so-secret weapons. He’s won the hearts of Richmond audiences in The Full Monty, Scapino! and The 1940’s Radio Hour here at Barksdale; in Greater Tuna, Little Shop of Horrors and The Hasty Heart at Swift Creek; The Robber Bridegroom at TheatreVirginia; and Peter Pan, Da, Of Mice and Men, Four Part Harmony, Crimes of the Heart and Cotton Patch Gospel at Theatre IV.

I hope all of you will join us this summer for Into the Woods. The stellar cast is not to be missed.
--Bruce Miller

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