Fairy tale rehearsals

As UC Irvine gears up for 'Into the Woods,' two of the original actors show up to give some special coaching.

November 04, 2010|By Candice Baker
  • UC Irvine drama students and staff pose with Joanna Gleason, the original Baker's Wife in "Into the Woods." The school will put on the musical later this month.
UC Irvine drama students and staff pose with Joanna Gleason,… (Daily Pilot )

Rehearsals have been anything but ordinary for UC Irvine students preparing for their production of Stephen Sondheim's tour-de-force musical "Into the Woods." Along with their usual blocking and memorization duties, the students studied with and performed for their heroes over the last few weeks.

Joanna Gleason, who won a Tony Award for her origination of the sardonic, world-weary Baker's Wife in the fairy tale's original Broadway production of 1987, stopped by the Claire Trevor School of the Arts to give a master class and watch the students perform a song from the show. Gleason was effusive in her praise as the students finished.

"It was really overwhelming to meet her in person. I'm not gonna lie. She is the Baker's Wife, and I know that this role was created for her, so to go up there and sing her song … I hope she was pleased with what I did," said Kagiso Alicia Paynter, who follows in Gleason's footsteps to play the Baker's Wife in the UCI production.


Paynter added that Gleason encouraged the students to be themselves during her master class.

"She said to be happy with who you are, and the rest will work," Paynter said.

The advice comes from Gleason's own life. Both she and her husband, fellow actor Chris Sarandon (best known for his portrayal of Prince Humperdinck in "The Princess Bride"), are still heavily involved in television, film and theater, and live in Connecticut.

The Broadway star was visiting Southern California for a family celebration, and was invited to visit the students by a colleague in the theater industry, UCI professor and "Into the Woods" director Don Hill.

"I thought she would be a really excellent, perfect person to come here. She's a gifted, gifted teacher," Hill said; Gleason has taught in schools around the country for 25 years.

Gleason is not the only luminary to meet with the students. Actress and producer Pamela Kashani, who originated the role of Rapunzel in the original production, also visited the students Wednesday; she had met with them previously as well.

Gleason, who spent her afternoon at UCI with her mother, said she especially was impressed by the team atmosphere she witnessed backstage.

"They're smart," Gleason said of the cast members. "They're not cynical. They're not slick. They're not jaded. They are really in service to something. They just have it out for each other … Coming back here reminds me of when I went to school at Occidental."

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