Stage and screen actor David Patrick Kelly talks about his journey with Into the Woods

-Brenda Hillegas
photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

“I’ve been in 13 Broadway shows,” David Patrick Kelly tells me during our phone call. “Do you know what 13 means?”

I paused…

Oh, of course! A baker’s dozen!

Kelly has dual roles in the latest Into the Woods revival, the Sondheim classic that intertwines many fairy tale plots and characters, all tied together by a story about a baker, his wife and their desire to start a family. As both the Narrator and the Mysterious Man, Kelly took the stage in the show’s New York City Center limited run last year, then followed it to Broadway and is now reprising his characters on tour.

“I feel like a rockstar,” he says about this opportunity to go on tour with a show. Into the Woods recently launched in Boston and will make stops in seven other cities across the US. Philadelphia can see it from April 4th to 9th at the Kimmel Cultural Campus Miller Theatre. 

In 1970, at the age of 19, Kelly performed alongside Meatloaf in a production of Hair. “I’m fulfilling a rock star fantasy [now],” he says, since he was only able to be a part of Hair while it was in his hometown of Detroit. “I feel like I’m part of a rock band.”

Kelly is full of stories and fun facts, making him the perfect person to play the show’s Narrator. But still, he says he tries to “be a good actor and do my homework.” He based his version of Into the Woods’ Narrator on Tolkien, actually, who talked a lot about fairies and started a discussion group with C.S. Lewis. Kelly reads Tolkein’s fairy stories every day before the show.

More understanding of his characters in Into the Woods comes from Jonathan Tunick, the show’s orchestrator. Tunick began collaborating with Stephen Sondheim in the 1970s and told Kelly about the deeper meanings of the show’s songs. “‘No More’, for example, is about Sondheim’s father. “I didn’t fully understand him before then,” says Kelly. He first became familiar with Sondheim when he found out that Paul McCartney was inspired to write “There’s a Place”, a song on the Beatles’ debut album, from the phrase in the West Side Story song, “(Somewhere) There’s a Place For Us”.

A couple of years ago, Kelly was a part of a musical called Miss You Like Hell with book and lyrics by Philadelphia playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes. The show’s director Lear deBessonet also directs this revival of Into the Woods, and so that’s how Kelly came to join the cast. 

“[Into the Woods] is a work of brilliance. It’s a joy to be a part of this story,” he says. “I didn’t realize what a gift this role would be.”

The cast recording became a Grammy winner for ‘Best Musical Theater Album’ at the recent 2023 Grammy Awards. There’s such enthusiasm in his voice as he highlights all of his incredible cast members’ performances and the show’s orchestra as well. “They are our literal woods,” he says, of the orchestra. Unlike many musicals, the band is on stage with the cast and not below in the pit. “They should all have hats- like birds and antlers,” Kelly laughs.

Kelly enjoys the feedback from the audiences and how wonderful it is to perform the show for people who don’t get to NYC often. He looks forward to spending time in every city. “I’m so happy to be out [on tour], this is such a great story to tell. It gets richer each time. I’ve loved doing the classics and Into The Woods is right there with Shakespeare and Chekhov if you ask me.”

At first, he was hesitant to tour with the show, as he has a 14-year-old daughter at home and didn’t want to be away from her or his wife. “But it’s great for them to come visit,” he says. “I didn’t know I’d love the adventure of touring so much.”

Into the Woods is an adventure with a goal to collect four objects to fulfill the wish of the Baker and his wife- a milky white cow, a red cape, hair as yellow as corn, and a gold slipper. There’s more to the show’s journey, though, according to Kelly. “Every city is part of our personal pilgrimage.” 

Be a part of this magical journey and get tickets to Into the Woods on the Kimmel Cultural Campus website so see the story unfold in front of you. 

Before we ended our call, Kelly left me with an important word to share- eucatastrophe. Tolkein coined it to explain a beautiful unraveling. “That’s our safe word,” Kelly says. “That’s what our show is- a eucatastrophe.”

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