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From Verdi to Sondheim: Samantha Clarke’s journey Into the Woods

Following her acclaimed debut as Violetta in La traviata, soprano Samantha Clarke is embarking on a journey Into the Woods as the Baker’s Wife in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Tony and Olivier-Award-winning musical at His Majesty’s Theatre from 23 March – 1 April.

Your debut as Violetta was a huge success. What did that season represent to you?

La traviata with West Australian Opera was such a special time for me. Not only was it my debut with West Australian Opera, my home company, but it was a role debut for me as well. It was also the first staged role I performed in Australia professionally after coming back from London due to the pandemic. Violetta is such a mountain of a role, and I will constantly be learning no matter how many times I perform her. To be able to really feel like I could get my teeth into the role in such a supportive environment was so rewarding, and I will always be grateful for that. It is a career pinpoint that I will carry with me forever. 

You’re about to appear as The Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods. Tell us about the show and your character.

I am loving playing the Baker’s Wife. She is such a multi-faceted character, but at the crux of it she is a strong woman who will do what she needs to do to get what she wants, and in this case, it is to have a child. She is so much fun to play with and there have been a lot of laughs in the rehearsal room already. The show is incredible, it is constantly breathing. There is always something happening and the ‘choreography’ side of my brain has been blown ha! 

It’s a hit Broadway musical and one of Stephen Sondheim’s most popular works. Why do you think Into the Woods is beloved?

Well, firstly I think how the story is intertwined with fairy tales that everyone knows. Anyone watching can make their own childhood connections with those, only for Sondheim to flip all the stories on their heads. It is not always happily ever after. I think what makes it really special though is how real the emotions and stories within the magic are. Sondheim weaves real life problems within the fairy/magic land. For example, the Baker’s Wife and her husband can’t have a child which is something that a lot of couples have to traverse. It’s a sophisticated Shrek without ogres……

As a singer, how would you describe Sondheim’s music and lyrics?

DIFFICULT. It is so amazing to listen to and he writes music so beautifully for the voice, but my goodness the lyrics are so hard to memorise as well having to be so rhythmic. The genius of Sondheim is that he writes everything so perfectly and you don’t need to mess around with any timing, rubato etc. Everything is there. 

Have you appeared in many musicals? 

The last musical I performed in was Les Misérables in 2012. Once I started studying classically all my attention went to opera and pursuing that. I love musical theatre and I loved performing in it during school. I did a certificate in musical theatre at WAAPA before I studied classically, so it is so nice being a part of this!

Is it an adjustment for you to return to musical theatre?

I think the biggest adjustment has been the dialogue and memorising that as well as the choreography. There are aspects that are exactly like working in an opera rehearsal, but definitely some other things to get used to!

What do you think audiences will love most about Into the Woods?

Audiences are taken on a complete journey. They will laugh, they will cry and have moments of reflection. I have found that in the rehearsal room watching my colleagues and that’s without the incredible set, costumes, and lighting in play yet. I think it will be a feast for all the senses and I am just so impressed by the cast who completely brings this complex and wacky piece to life! I kind of wish I could be an audience member and watch it, but playing the Baker’s Wife is a pretty good alternative!

West Australian Opera presents Into the Woods from 23 March – 1 April at His Majesty’s Theatre. Book here.