Zak Hendrikz is no stranger to theatre lovers of Cape Town, having graced the Theatre on the Bay stage in musicals such as Hair (2007) and Little Shop of Horror (2015). Now he’s back as both The Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince in the Steven Stead directed staging of Sondheim and Lapine’s Into The Woods. In this Spotlight interview, Hendrikz shares his love for musical theatre and his interpretation of Sondheim's vision.
Hendrikz reveals that he studied musical theatre at Tshwane University of Technology, so Stephen Sondheim’s work was well known to him when he was made the offer to star in the latest staging of Into The Woods. ‘Through the three years of my studies we did quite a lot of extract’s from Into the Woods, so by the time I finished my studies, I think I played every single role in this musical!’
Sonheim musicals are notoriously difficult to perform, with the execution thereof often being linked to the anecdote that Sondheim doesn’t allow performers the opportunity to breathe while singing. A performer who has a love for Sondheim must truly have an appreciation for the depth that one can find in a musical.
‘For me musicals represent an emotional journey that you cannot get in a straight theatre piece,’ shares Hendrikz. ‘In a musical, when your characters emotions are so heightened, dialogue is not enough to explain your heightened state, and the only way you can then express your emotions is to burst out into song and dance. As a performer, I love the fact that you can express your emotions through so many art forms.’
With musicals running on emotions —so to speak— some seem to actually grow in popularity as time goes by. Into the Woods was first stage in 1986, and, the obvious appeal of fairy tales aside, it still makes for an unique experience that captivate audiences more than 30 years later. Hendriks explains that its timelessness is rooted in is continued relevance, as ‘the whole show deals with human emotions’. ‘When one speaks about love, lust, agony, pain, friendship or loss, these are themes that every single person can relate to.’
Over the years there have been many musings about the various themes found in Into The Woods —such as parenting, family responsibility, legacy, community, actions and consequences, and it's even been described as an AIDS parable— though Sondheim has hinted that it was never intended to be absolute or overly specific in theme.
The flexibility of Into the Woods, from a theme perspective, gives it great power in leaving the impact of the musical open to interpretation. This is so, especially when one considers that the musical opens with the lyrics ‘I wish’ as a sentiment that echoes throughout the production. For Hendrikz that ‘I wish’ encapsulates the message that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side… or that is at least what we believe’.
‘The human condition always strives for more. In many ways that is a good thing; that gives you drive and purpose. Yet, sometimes it is also a flaw in our human condition. You always pursue your wish, but when you get it, it's either not what you thought it would be, or you want more. We’re never satisfied. Our production of Into the Woods makes the audience aware of these traits, and asks them the question, “If you get your wish, will you be content, or are you happy the way you are?”.’
The feeling of want and the search for contentment is strongly associated with The Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince, both played by Hendrikz. Superficially viewed from a childhood fairy tale perspective, these characters are polar opposites —one the obvious villain and the other expected to be a charming hero. However, once you start looking at the layers of these characters, certain truths and similarity reveal itself in the uncontrollable ‘appetite’ of both. ‘The Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince are very different in physicality, and in their personalities,’ elaborates Hendrikz. While, ‘The Wolf is a representation of what we think ugly and cruel is... the thing that binds them is lust’.
‘The Wolf has lustful ideas to eat Little Red, and The Prince has lustful ideas about charming innocent women in the woods. Just because The Prince is seen as a representation of what perfection should be, doesn’t mean that he is perfect. His actions are just as cruel as that of The Wolf. So, both characters are a mirror image of each other. The same emotion drives them; both represent the same idea. That is why Sondheim decided the same actor should play both roles. Just because a wolf is a wolf, you expect him to be vile and ugly. And, one would expect Prince Charming to be [just that, charming], but the reality is that he is also only human. And he could also be vile and ugly of heart.’ This then is strongly reflected when Cinderella’s Prince very fervidly declares, ‘I was raised to be charming, not sincere’, and so emphasises that Into the Woods is a cautionary fairy tale for adults.
Hendrikz shares that the cautionary message he takes from it all is to be careful what you wish for, ‘rather see if you can be content with what you have.’
With that cautionary element in mind, Hendrikz further explains that Into The Woods as ‘one of Broadway’s most loved musicals… is an emotional journey that every person will be able to relate to’. ‘During the course of this show, everyone in the audience will be able to relate to an emotion, feeling, or situation that will resonate with them. Steven Stead, our director, really did an incredible job with this production.’
With this musical being so nuanced, portraying The Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince must be a challenge to any performer, especially as Hendrikz has to reveal the comparative development of both by exposing their fairy tale follies and fallacies. This challenge has always been on Hendrikz's bucket list.
With this being one of his dream roles, one then must simply ask: How has Hendrikz made The Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince his own? In fact, Sondheim encourages such a personal touch to any performance, as '[a]ll the best performers bring to their role something more, something different than what the author put on paper’.
‘Not only do I feel I have pressure from the production to succeed in the role, but I have put a lot of expectations on myself with what I would like to achieve, and I do not want to disappoint,’ says Hendrikz. ‘That being said, I do know what my strengths are, and when I got the phone call to play this role, I knew I was perfect for the role. I have a sharpness and precision to my technique, which I think will read very well for these two characters.’
Go see Hendrikz as The Wolf and Cinderalla’s Prince in Sondheim and Lapine’s Into The Woods at Theatre on the Bay until 2 March 2019, and join him on this emotional journey that will allow you to ‘experience laughter, anger, pain, and love as one entity’ —the form of escapism that theatre as a lifestyle should offer you. Tickets are available online through Computicket.