*When Jennie Greenberry, who plays the role of “Cinderella” in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of “Into The Woods” at The Wallis Theater in Beverly Hills got an email out of the blue asking if she’d interested in auditioning for the role, she says her first thought was one, “This is amazing” – because ‘Into the Woods’ is one of her favorite musicals; but then she found herself thinking, “Do they know I’m not white.”
At a striking 5’9″ tall, Greenberry is probably one of the tallest women to ever play the role of the poor, abused servant girl who catches the eye (and heart) of prince charming. “I never saw myself in the show. Not that I didn’t want to be, I just never saw anyone that looked like me in Into the Woods. I thought, ‘Oh its a great show but there’s probably nothing in it for me.'”
Greenberry, a soprano whose theater work includes plays such as The Wiz, Pippin, Ain’t Misbehavin, Little Shop of Horrors and dozens more – was up for two roles in two different plays when the call came in for Into The Woods. She ended up getting both roles, Cinderella and a role in the play, “Cocoanuts,” as part of a 10-month contract.
In a production described by one reviewer as “sometimes dark and sinister” because its ‘take’ on the lives of characters we have all come to know and love is one that forces them to live beyond the happily ever after, EURThisNthat editor, DeBorah B. Pryor asked Greenberry how her Cinderella fits into that concept. How does an actor build a fantasy character like Cinderella and make it believable with real world issues? “That is a great questions because that’s one of the things I asked myself when I started rehearsals at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,” Greenberry admits through a chuckle. “Because of course, all of these characters are so iconic. But I think everyone knows the story of Cinderella right? And to me, I was in love with Disney movies growing up, but Cinderella – I loved the movie but [thought], Cinderella was one of the most boring heroines in all of fairytale land,” she laughs.
Greenberry credits Amanda Dehnert, who directs the OSF production, as the person who really helped her with the role. In an interview with the L. A. Times, Dehnert states, “It’s the thematic issues — how do you live in a world that is darker than you thought it was?” “One of the reasons I really love working with her,” Jennie continues, “is that she really does have such a wonderful eye for realism and detail. So in talking with her about this, she wasn’t thinking of Cinderella as an iconic character, she was thinking in terms of her as a person, a human being.”
Feeling more assured about developing a character based on human qualities helped the actor start focusing on the details that surround the characters’ existence. Like growing up without a mother in an emotionally and physically abusive household. She’s a woman who is sheltered, alone – and has no contact with the outside world other than her friends the mice and birds. She is a woman who frequently takes solace in visiting the grave of her dead mother. “So I just started doing a lot of research on how emotional and physical abuse affects children who grow up in abusive homes,” Jennie says. “As it turns out, they have a lot of issues developing relationships with other people. A lot of times they will fluctuate between having emotional outbursts and being incredibly passive.” Greenberry says these are the things that she works to incorporate into her Cinderella.
Of course, this begs the question, how old is the Cinderella that she is playing today? Jennie surmises she is most likely 19 or 20. “Kind of that age where you think you have it all figured out, only to find out that this is not entirely true,” Greenberry laughs. The actor says that once she started focusing on building the character based on her human aspects, as opposed to that of an icon, the pressure level went down significantly. When asked if she’s having fun playing the character, Jennie whoops and hollers, “OMG yes! It’s so much fun, I almost feel guilty taking a paycheck!” Then she quickly admits, “But then I remember I have a lot of student loans to pay off, so then I don’t feel so bad.”
Into the Woods is a modern twist on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Beloved storybook characters, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (of beanstalk fame) and the Baker and his Wife take on startling complexity as they discover wishes come with a price. Witches, wolves, giants and mysterious strangers force the heroes to face the music and look past “Happily Ever After.” With the film adaptation of Into The Woods coming to theaters on Christmas Day, Patricia Wolff, interim artistic director of the Wallis, called its timing of the play’s debut “a very happy accident for us.” Critics are taking notice of Jennie Greenberry’s Cinderella. The Hollywood Reporter says, “Jennie Greenberry richly embodies Cinderella, bringing strong musical-theater chops to “On the Steps of the Palace” and the climactic “No One Is Alone.” And according to the Huffington Post, ” Jennie Greenberry is a marvelous Cinderella.”
But this is probably not your grandma’s fairytale; so according to some critics, parents might want to think twice about bringing the kids to this production according to some critics. Yet the productions’ publicity states, “For mature elementary students and up.” “It’s definitely not a kids show,” Dylan F. Thomas, artistic director of Center Stage Opera tells the L. A. Times. CSO will present “Into the Woods” in February in Canoga Park, and Thomas says, “It plays with our idea of fairy tales — you better watch what you ask for, and you never get what you want. We’re always wanting something that’s bigger and better, and this show highlights that.” The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, led by world-renowned Artistic Director Bill Rauch, offers this new production, which features a 17-member cast and an 18-member orchestra.
In addition to Greenberry, the cast features Jeff Skowron as the Baker, Rachael Warren as the Baker’s Wife, Miriam A. Laube as the Witch, Miles Fletcher as Jack, Robin Goodrin Nordli as Jack’s Mother, Jeremy Peter Johnson as Cinderella’s Prince/Voice of the Wolf, Howie Seago as the Wolf, Kjerstine Rose Anderson as Little Red Riding Hood, Robert Vincent Frank as Cinderella’s Father, Catherine E. Coulson as Cinderella’s Stepmother/Milky White, Royer Bockus as Rapunzel, John Tufts as Rapunzel’s Prince, Mauro Hantman as the Steward, Katie Bradley as Florina/Sleeping Beauty and Christiana Clark as Lucinda/Snow White.
The production features costumes by Linda Roethke, set by Rachel Hauck, lighting by Jane Cox, sound by Joshua Horvath, associate music direction by Matt Goodrich, fight direction by U. Jonathan Toppo, voice and text direction by David Carey and Rebecca Clark Carey, projection design by Omar Ramos, original casting by Joy Dickson, and is conducted by Martin Majkut.
Into the Woods runs through December 21 Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday Evenings at 8 pm and Saturdays at 3 pm and 8 pm; Sundays at 2 pm and 7pm. at the Bram Goldsmith Theater, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210. Tickets are priced $29.00-$110.00 and can be purchased in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center Box Office, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210 – By phone: 310-746-4000 or online at www.thewallis.org