The Wiz) stars as the Baker’s Wife in our new production of Into the Woods. She chats with us about the challenges of singing Sondheim’s score and the fun she anticipates in the rehearsal room with her costars.

" /> The Wiz) stars as the Baker’s Wife in our new production of Into the Woods. She chats with us about the challenges of singing Sondheim’s score and the fun she anticipates in the rehearsal room with her costars.

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Sondheim's Baker's Wife: Awa Sal Secka Plays the Role at Ford's Theatre

Playing through May 22, 2019, Ford’s presents a new production of Into the Woods, directed by Peter Flynn. The production features Awa Sal Secka (Glinda in The Wiz) as the Baker’s Wife. Awa spoke with us about the challenges of singing Sondheim’s score and the fun she anticipates in the rehearsal room with her costars.

The Baker, wearing a yellow waistcoat, brown knee-length trousers and socks, green shoes and floppy baker’s hat, stands next to an actress playing his wife. She wears a corseted top, a brightly patterned scarf of reds, blues and yellows on her head, and an ankle-length yellow skirt. He stands bewildered with mouth open while she looks to the skies with her hand extended.
Evan Casey as Baker and Awa Sal Secka as Baker’s Wife in the Ford’s Theatre production of “Into the Woods,” directed by Peter Flynn, choreographed by Michael Bobbitt and music direction by William Yanesh. The production features Scenic Design by Milagros Ponce de León, Costume Design by Wade Laboissonniere, Lighting Design by Rui Rita, Sound Design by David Budries, Projection Design by Clint Allen and Hair and Make-up Design by Anne Nesmith. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

What excites you about performing in Into the Woods?

Awa Sal Secka: Just returning to Ford’s in and of itself is a huge achievement for me as an artist. Being cast as Glinda in The Wiz last year was a dream. Ford’s was where my love for history and theatre began as a young person in the Oratory programs. I love being in a space that carries such a history, such a dedication to its place and the importance of the stories it can tell. I’m so grateful that Ford’s continues to give me opportunities to be in this place where everything started for me, and to challenge me. I’m very excited!

Awa Sal Secka stands with her left hand raised on set for "The Wiz" at Ford's Theatre. She wears an animal-print fitted cress, long flowing cape and African headress. She holds the hand of the actress playing Dorothy.
Awa Sal Secka as Glinda (at right) with Ines Nassara as Dorothy in the Ford’s Theatre production of “The Wiz,” directed by Kent Gash. Also pictured: Da’Von T. Moody, Ashley D. Buster and Jonathan Adriel inPhoto by Carol Rosegg.

What is your first memory of Into the Woods?

Secka: I remember watching the original Broadway cast film on Netflix. That was about four years ago and I was mesmerized.

We all know fables, bedtime stories, tall tales and fairy tales. Into the Woods goes further, making audiences look into themselves and see how those wishes, wants and needs—the things we do good and bad—how they affect us. I’m fascinated by how the things we think are happily ever after, once they come true.

So you wouldn’t describe this as your typical fairy tale?

Secka: The situation that the characters are going through are trying, to say the least. It’s so much more than a typical fairy tale. And you find, in the end, that so many of those people would rather be in those situations than to end up the way that they do in the story. It’s profound to think about the Baker’s Wife (whom I play) and all that she goes through for a child and for her family. To end up how she does is something that gets me thinking about choices and misfortune.

An African-American actress with shoulder-length hair claps while seated in a rehearsal room. She is wearing an off-the-shoulder, long sleeved tan dress and several gold charm bracelets
Awa Sal Secka at first rehearsal. Pictured behind her are cast mates Maria Egler and Samy Nour Younes. Photo by Gary Erskine.

Tell me about the Baker’s Wife.

Secka: Vocally she’s the most like me. She is where I first felt a connection in the music—I loved her songs! Now, I thought to myself, “there is not a chance in history that me, at the age of 24, would be considered for this show.” I just auditioned because I love singing these songs! I’ve discovered that I love her story and her journey, and I’m so eager to do it.

At the front of the set, the cast of “Into the Woods” stands or kneels in their fairy-tale costumes. Cinderella is in the center wearing her rags, Little Red Ridinghood and Milky White stand to the left, and Jack and his mother to the right. Cinderella’s stepsisters are there—now blinded, they wear small dark glasses and hold canes. The baker and his wife, Rapunzel’s Prince and others all gather around.
The cast of the Ford’s Theatre production of “Into the Woods,” directed by Peter Flynn, choreographed by Michael Bobbitt and music direction by William Yanesh. The production features Scenic Design by Milagros Ponce de León, Costume Design by Wade Laboissonniere, Lighting Design by Rui Rita, Sound Design by David Budries, Projection Design by Clint Allen and Hair and Make-up Design by Anne Nesmith. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

What can you tell us about Peter Flynn’s production?

Secka: Our production isn’t cast in the most traditional way. I’m grateful for the opportunity Peter Flynn gives me and others in this story. When you choose to have a young black woman play your Baker’s Wife, what does that mean? I’m excited to explore that in rehearsals and excited for all of the different kinds of people we will reach by telling the story in this way. All of those to whom we will, in effect, be saying, “I see you, this is your story. I am telling this story for you.” Or, to those young artists who may not be represented in fairy tale casting as often that we can encourage.

Our telling the story in this way reinforces that we see them in this story, and that it can be their story to tell as well. That is such a blessing.

A black woman and white man hold hands in a forest. They are dressed like poor 18th-century fairy tale characters.
Awa Sal Secka (Baker's Wife) and Evan Casey (Baker) for the upcoming Ford's Theatre production of "Into the Woods." Photo by Scott Suchman.

Sondheim is known for writing smart and difficult music to play and sing. How do you tackle his songs?

Secka: One thing that I remember with Sondheim is that every single thing I am looking for emotionally from the character is in the music. He is not someone who writes just for the sake of the melody; he writes for the sake of the emotion. He details every single vocal flick, every ditty on the piano, every trill on the piccolo precisely to emote.

Sometimes you do a show and feel like the emotion you are trying to gather from a character isn’t present in the music so it’s up to you as the actor to go the extra mile to figure that out. With Sondheim, the extra mile is just letting yourself breathe into the emotion. Which is so nice. It means there is something to find in that every time you sing it. It’s such a blessing to sing his music. It’s so intelligent, witty, deep, heartbreaking all at the same time, and that exists in the vocal score and the instrumental score.

Baker’s Wife stands and sings. She wears a corseted top, a brightly patterned scarf of reds, blues and yellows on her head, and an ankle-length yellow skirt
 Awa Sal Secka as Baker’s Wife in the Ford’s Theatre production of “Into the Woods,” directed by Peter Flynn, choreographed by Michael Bobbitt and music direction by William Yanesh. The production features Scenic Design by Milagros Ponce de León, Costume Design by Wade Laboissonniere, Lighting Design by Rui Rita, Sound Design by David Budries, Projection Design by Clint Allen and Hair and Make-up Design by Anne Nesmith. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

How does performing something at Ford’s enhance a show for you?

Secka: There is an incredible history that oozes from the space. The Society’s dedication to the stories they tell is admirable— classic, nostalgic but new and fresh every time. It’s a beautiful place to be and I am so grateful.

Lauren Beyea is Associate Director of Communications and Marketing at Ford’s Theatre, where she oversees media relations. She is editor of the Ford’s Theatre Blog. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenBeyea.