I was inspired to write this post in December, but life happened, so March it is!
At Christmas time I always watch the wonderful holiday classic, The Bishop’s Wife, the 1947 film starring Cary Grant as the angel, and David Niven as the Bishop. As it turns out, when they started filming, the roles were reversed: Cary Grant was playing the Bishop and David Niven was the angel. But when the first director was replaced, the new director watched what had already been filmed and felt right away that the two men were in the wrong roles and wanted to switch them. Apparently it took quite a lot of convincing because Cary Grant really wanted the title role. But in the end he agreed, and he was widely acclaimed for the role of Dudley, the angel. Watching the film, I cannot imagine anyone else in the roles that they play. Cary Grant is perfect as the oh so charming but soulful angel and David Niven perfect as the uptight, anxiety riddled Bishop. And yet, neither of them wanted to play the roles that we now see are perfect for them. It goes to show that sometimes as an actor, we just don’t know what is actually right for us, or what we are capable of playing. Case in point:
When I auditioned for Into the Woods a few years ago, I desperately wanted to play the role of the Baker’s Wife. She was always my favorite character every time I had seen the show, and I had seen it too many times to count. I thought I was perfect for the role and really, really wanted to sing “Moments in the Woods,” one of my favorite songs from the show, and one of my favorite Sondheim songs, period. I had heard that the director liked to cast against type, so I figured I might be considered for the part of Cinderella, which was fine by me as she is also a great character, and what a hoot it would be for ME to play a princess…
But the director had other ideas. Not once did I read for either the Baker’s Wife or Cinderella, or any other role, barring one: The Witch. I was very surprised. It had never once occurred to me that I could or would play that part. I had never imagined myself in that role. I was extremely daunted because I knew how wildly difficult it was both vocally and dramatically. But I wanted to be in the show sooooo badly that I went for it. One of the more nerve-wracking experiences of my performing life was doing a cold dramatic reading of the lyrics to the Witch’s song, “Last Midnight.” Thank goodness I didn’t have to sight sing it; interpreting it as a monologue was challenging enough! Later that evening I was offered the role. It was either the Witch, or not be in the show. As intimidating as the prospect seemed, I of course accepted immediately; a chance to be in Into the Woods must never be passed up.
In the end, it was one of the most rewarding parts I have ever played. It was so wonderfully challenging in every way- musically, vocally, dramatically, emotionally, and physically. I loved every minute of it. (Well, maybe not every minute of “Last Midnight”. That song is devilishly hard!) Doing that part allowed me to see myself differently and realize that I am far more capable than I know. And it proves yet again, that we, as the performer, don’t always know what’s right for us, can’t see ourselves as clearly as others sometimes can, and often inhibit and limit ourselves unknowingly, and needlessly. I would have missed out on an incredible theatrical and personal and professional growth experience if I had turned down the role. Playing such a nuanced and complicated character was fantastic. Every night I reveled in the language, the music, and the emotions I could let loose through the character. I would still love to play the Baker’s Wife, but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to flex my dramatic and vocal muscles in ways I had never dreamed I could.