Saphire Demitro and her big voice go Into the Woods
by Drew Rowsome-
"It's sort of overwhelming but pretty amazing at the same time," says Saphire Demitro of her role as the witch in Into the Woods. "I didn't think I'd play this role for a few more years. I was kind of shocked, I was aiming for the baker's wife. When they called and told me I was playing the witch, I was floored. And then ridiculously excited."
Demitro is known for her powerhouse voice which added oomph to Little Shop of Horrors, American Idiot, Obeah Opera, The Great American Trailer Park Musical and Jesus Christ Superstar where the director was so blown away by her vocal prowess that he gender-shifted the key role of Herod. And as soon as Into the Woods is over, she goes back into the tour of Evil Dead the Musicalwhich returns to Toronto in February."I now have these two characters, who are two completely different people, from one end of the spectrum to the other . . . When I started this I felt a little crazy 'cause I still had this other person stored in my brain and every so often she would creep out. I'd have to say, 'It's not time for you. Go back in the box.' I still have this whole other show living in my head while I'm in the midst of this miraculous beast I'm living in right now. I'm really good at being other people but the moment I have to be myself, I get a little more terrified."
Demitro laughs, she laughs often and easily, when asked if she has to restrain her voice to do justice to Sondheim's score. "Like that belt at the beginning of Little Shop of Horrors? They asked for it. Part of the joy of doing this show has been the fact that people expect a certain sound from me. With this character, it's not what it's ever been about. I didn't get the role because I have big pipes which is a huge staple of why I get booked. Not that that's a bad thing, I worked very hard at it. But it's refreshing for me to get to play with my voice more. A lot of it's softer but there are places where people are used to it being blared out and I want it to build more. I don't want that train coming at you all the time. You can't in a show like this. It's been a challenge. One that I'm very grateful for."
She references the eleven o'clock number "The Last Midnight" where she finally gets to let it rip, "That number is so repetitive and where it sits in the voice, you could just belt that thing the whole way through. But it would be so in-your-face the whole time and the character arc is so much more interesting than the notes I have to sing. Building it and making it a rounded piece was the challenge. For me, it's so easy to just open my mouth and make this huge sound."
But Demitro does rely on the brilliant music for what she refuses to admit is a star turn. "Initially I don't think the role was meant to be this big but Stephen Sondheim kept adding and adding for Bernadette Peters. I'm grateful. When you see how often she jumps in here, and has a line here and a line there. Without all the extra material, I think it would leave you with a two-dimensional character, black and white, witches are bad. But he ended up taking her and making this real person, it's fantastic."
The big visual wow in Into the Woods is the witch's transformation, now a staple of more upscale and costume-savvy drag queens. "We're not body-doubling, I'm on stage the whole time," teases Demitro. "We're going to make magic happen. The gown is very classic. I think it's going to be very different from what people expect. Very glamorous but very chic. But still hangs on to the idea that we have this vision of what a witch is. The whole show is very re-imagined. It's all based around clockwork. The whole set is one giant mechanical clock. We are these people living our individual lives but we're also pieces of the clock working intricately within it. I think that director Jeremy Hutton has done a brilliant job of taking a show that everyone sort of knows so well and spinning it. I'm so excited."