The sky is turning orange behind the black trees of Central Park, just like the set I remember from 25 years ago. I’m inside one of the city’s greatest works of art, the park, waiting to see another: the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.”
I do remember that night in 1987 at the Martin Beck Theatre. I remember where we sat — down front, to the left of the stage. I remember the thrill of waiting to hear Sondheim’s newest notes, his newest words since “Sunday in the Park With George.” In what direction was he going? I felt a little awed, but it was a good kind of awe — alive, not dead. I was sharing Sondheim’s lifetime. I was alive to watch his genius unfold.
Twenty-five years ago I was a newcomer to the city, a transplanted Southerner. I lived in the East Village, where rents were affordable for struggling artists. It was still a scrappy and dangerous neighborhood then — and I was still scrappy, making a living by cobbling together grants and teaching gigs.
Forward copy editor Teri Zucker explains her Stephen Sondheim tattoo.
I’d always loved musical theater, beginning with the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals I knew from the movies of my childhood, up through “West Side Story” and even “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I grew up writing poetry and listening mostly to classical music. My favorite musical instrument was the human voice. I loved best the forms where music and words came together: Schubert’s lieder; the few operas I had been exposed to in North Carolina; “Tosca”; Menotti’s “The Medium,” which I saw on TV, and his astonishing opera “The Consul.”
On a visit to the city in 1973, I saw and loved Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.” (I even waited at the stage door for Hermione Gingold.) When I finally moved here, in 1984, a friend who was a hardcore Sondheim lover took me to see “Sunday in the Park.” I was bowled over. This was what I’d been waiting for all my life — something with the complexities of opera and the accessibility of musical theater. I couldn’t believe my friend knew me well enough to know how much I’d love this.
Three years later, I went with her to the original production of “Into the Woods,” Sondheim and James Lapine’s dark fairy-tale mash-up, in which characters from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Rapunzel,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Cinderella” cross paths with each other and with a childless baker and his wife.