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What’s Up, James Lapine? The Director on Merrily, Into the Woods, Casting Annie and Those Idina Menzel Rumors

What’s Up, James Lapine? The Director on Merrily, Into the Woods, Casting Annie and Those Idina Menzel Rumors
James Lapine
It was interesting to revisit 'Merrily' this many years later and look at my own life.

Three-time Tony winner James Lapine (Into the Woods, Passion, Falsettos) is keeping himself quite busy these days. Lapine directed the Encores! production of Merrily We Roll Along, which played its final performance on February 19; he is gearing up to helm a fall 2012 Broadway revival of Annie, and he's the man behind the book and direction of the Broadway-bound musical Little Miss Sunshine. Broadway.com caught up with the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer/director to discuss his many projects, the qualities needed to play Little Orphan Annie on Broadway, the forthcoming Central Park revival of Into the Woods and casting rumors surrounding Little Miss Sunshine.

Congratulations on Encores! Merrily We Roll Along! What attracted you to direct this version of the show?
Oh, I love the piece! I did it 26 years ago [at La Jolla Playhouse], so this was a great opportunity to go back and give it another shot.

Why now?
Why not now? [laughs]. It seemed appropriate timing. We were originally going to do it as a revival at the Roundabout Theatre Company and that fell through, so I suggested it to Jack [Viertel] over at Encores!

What was it like to revisit Merrily after so many years?
This show is a kind of litmus—it speaks to a lot of different things depending on what your particular age is. It was interesting to revisit [Merrily] this many years later and look at my own life and put it in a certain perspective.

Any aspiring creative person relates to this show. What was most meaningful to you this time around?
What was fun about this production was working with the young people on it. When I did it last time, I was working with people my own age. This time, of course, I was working with people much younger than myself, and that was great. I don’t get too psychological about what I most relate to, but I think it’s an emotional response to getting older and looking back on your life.

Why has your working relationship with Sondheim endured for almost 30 years, since Sunday in the Park with George?
Steve is a great collaborator and he really enjoys the collaborative process. To state the obvious, he is an incredibly brilliant man, so it’s stimulating to be around him and work with him.

Did he have any input in this production of Merrily?
Oh, sure. He always has input [laughs].

Now that Encores! has wrapped, do you this production will find life elsewhere?
The show is done quite a lot, so I think it will be continued to be produced, but I don’t know if this production will have any [future] life.

Looking ahead to your other projects, we saw that the Annie revival is having casting calls. What qualities are you seeking in an ideal Annie?
Golly, someone who can sing! [laughs.] I like children who are authentic on stage, so we’re just trying to find kids who are very real and very alive and have a kind of rawness to them that will connect to the roles rather than somebody too slicked out.

In addition to Annie, you also have the musical adaptation of Little Miss Sunshine on your plate. What's new with that?
We are just re-grouping actually. We were hoping to get in [to Broadway] this season, but we had to wait so long to get a theater, and when we finally got a theater we couldn’t get everything pulled together in time to make it happen. I am not sure what we are going to do next with it, but it will be produced and I am excited about it!

Will the [2011] La Jolla cast [including Hunter Foster, Malcolm Gets and Dick Latessa] reassemble for Broadway?
I have no idea; it’s too far down the line. Everyone has gone their own ways.

Is there any truth that Idina Menzel might join the production?
Well, she did a reading for us, but it’s hard to know who will be involved with it until we know when it is going to happen. It’s kind of on the back-burner for the moment.

Into the Woods is headed for Central Park in the first NYC production that you have not directed yourself. Did you see the London version that is being transferred?
I did not, but Steve [Sondheim] saw it and loved it. He was very encouraged for them to bring it to New York, and I think it’s just the perfect show for Central Park, so I am excited about it.

After Bernadette Peters, Phylicia Rashad and Vanessa Williams, what makes a spectacular Witch?
Somebody with a lot of potency; somebody who has a lot of power and carries herself with power!

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