‘Into the Woods,’ ‘Sweeney Todd’ Actors Praise Co-Stars



As they say in Into the Woods”: It takes two. 

And not just in “Into the Woods.” The 2023 Tony nominations remind us several times over that sometimes an actor’s role is so closely tied to another that it’s difficult to imagine a performance without the organic give-and-take shared with a co-star. 

  From “Into the Woods,” there’s Sara Bareilles and Brian D’Arcy James, both contenders for Tony Awards as lead performers for their work in the tightly linked roles of the Baker and the Baker’s Wife. Among their fellow nominees, there’s Ben Platt and Micaela Diamond as an accused murderer and the steadfast wife who strives to exculpate him in “Parade,” plus Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford as the murderous barber and the baker who loves him in “Sweeney Todd.” And the two lead roles in “Topdog/Underdog” and “Some Like It Hot” are so intertwined that these co-stars find themselves competing in the same category against a castmate.  

 “Finding your character is a collaboration between you, the director, the piece and the other actor you’re working with,” says Ashford, who stars as Mrs. Lovett opposite Groban’s Sweeney in the nominated revival of the Stephen Sondheim musical. “In my case, I find myself crawling for three hours all over the rock and the tree that is Josh’s character, trying to get him to love me!” 

Her co-star Groban notes, “On the one hand, as characters Annaleigh and I are on very different journeys in the show. But as actors we’re still very much in it together. We’re able to bounce off and lean into the light and dark with
each other.” 

  For many of this year’s nominated actors, a co-star proved integral in developing an individual performance. “A lot of what I learned about my own character was from Yahya and from running with whatever he threw me,” says Corey Hawkins, nominated for leading actor in a play alongside co-star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. The duo played brothers in Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog.” “We had to trust each other implicitly, because there’s no other lifeline on that stage.” 

  “We bring in our ideas of who we think these characters are, but all of a sudden you find yourself opposite another really talented actor who’s presenting a character with needs of their own,” explains Abdul-Mateen II. “You have to be able to change with that.” 

Actors also credit their co-stars with helping them keep a show fresh from night to night. “Sometimes Ben, in character, is harsh to me onstage, and that will trigger an entirely different experience of the trial scenes for my character than when he’s understanding and so grateful that I’m there for him,” says Diamond of her work with Platt in “Parade.” “I feel so safe around Ben that I know that we can listen to each other onstage and react in different ways, but still within in the boundaries of our characters’ circumstances.” 

  The pair say that’s part of the joy of working together eight shows a week. “We hold each other in a way that makes each of us feel like we can do no wrong,” Platt says. 

  Developing characters are also informed by the personal relationships actors form during rehearsals. “There’s kind of a dual performance and dual connection onstage,” says James from “Into the Woods.” “You have the characters that you’ve crafted that are responding to each other in the play, but then you have this unknown quantity of how you as people connect.” 

For J. Harrison Ghee, the “Some Like It Hot” performer nominated for lead role in a musical alongside co-star Christian Borle, their shared performance reflects a rapport both onstage and off. “I met Christian on this project, and I love meeting a moment,” they say. “I just trusted him in building this relationship that allows each of us to shine in what we do.” 

  “It was purely a dynamic thing for us,” Borle chimes in. “We fed off of each other’s energy, and we did instantly click. J. is very easy to be in love with and to care about, so I just did that. And tap danced around it!” 

  When a new actor steps into a role, fresh elements of a shared performance are discovered as well. In “Into the Woods,” Bareilles acted opposite James after two weeks of sharing the stage with Neil Patrick Harris in the same role. “As happens when new people come into a role, it filters through a new lens,” Bareilles says. “The rhythms of the show lived very differently.” 

  Castmates can be so integral that sometimes when one actor gets a nomination and the other doesn’t, it feels like an oversight. That’s the case for Jessica Hecht, nominated for lead actress in a play in “Summer, 1976.” Her co-star in the two-hander, Laura Linney, was left out of the category.

  “The whole truth to the process is there’s absolutely no way anything could have been done without the relationship I was forming with Laura the whole time,” she says. 


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