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Arts & Culture

Children (And Adults) Will Listen: Leta Harris Neustaedter Sings Sondheim For Boise Music Week

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Boise Music Week
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Leta Harris Neustaedter
Leta Harris Neustaedter portrays The Witch from Into the Woods for Boise Music Week

When does a week last 14 days? When it’s the 2021 edition of Boise Music Week – showcasing a music journey that includes jazz, songs of praise, a wide variety of international dance, and a taste of Broadway’s best. And this year’s program, which stretches from May 2-15, will be virtual.

“This role keeps slipping through my fingers,” said Leta Harris Neustaedter, who had her heart set on portraying the Witch in a full production of "Into the Woods" on the stage of the Morrison Center.

Indeed, the full production is still planned for 2022. But this year, Neustaedter will perform an excerpt from the musical, virtually, for Boise Music Week.

Neustaedter visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about how the role is at the top of her “bucket list,” and her return to live, in-person performing at select Boise venues.

A note: Leta Harris Neustaedter sits on Boise State Public Radio’s Community Advisory Board.

“The Witch's energy and the struggles that she is having in her life … really hit more home.”
Leta Harris Neustaedter

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. The past year has in many ways been defined by loss… and that includes the loss of live music. And among the things that we're looking forward to so much is beautiful music performed live by some of our favorite artists. And here in Idaho, that has to include Leta Harris Neustaedter, actress, writer, therapist, teacher, broadcaster, and for our purposes this morning, a glorious singer leader. Good morning.

LETA HARRIS NEUSTAEDTER: Good morning.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about Boise Music Week, which has filled hearts for more than a century. It's a bit bigger this year. It runs this week and next. Leta, the second I saw your name attached to the music of Stephen Sondheim, well my heart jumped an extra beat. So, tell us what you'll be performing.

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Boise Music Week
Boise Music Week 2021 runs May 2-14

NEUSTAEDTER: I will be performing the role of the Witch in Into the Woods. And that is the one and only role on my bucket list. You know, that's a big thing for theater people. And some people have a laundry list of bucket list roles that they want to perform. And I have had one and it was the Witch. So, I have been waiting for about 20 years to be able to perform this specific role, and then to get a chance to do it on a big stage…the Morrison Center. Are you kidding me? I mean, it was just… it was really a dream come true for me in so many ways. It's one of the things that I probably was the most excited about in my entire life. And there's a lot of really cool things that have happened to me in my life. But this was….and it felt kind of unreal. And then a month into rehearsals, COVID hit, and we had to shut down. And I just felt like this is. …why, it feels unreal… this is never going to happen for me. This role keeps slipping through my fingers, you know? And then we thought, well, surely by next year we'll be on stage. and here we are and it's next year and we're not on stage. And I, I still I just I feel this role slipping away. But George, I'm clinging to it…I'm clinging.

PRENTICE: So, for now it'll be virtual. But are there plans…fingers and toes crossed… for next year? A live production?

NEUSTAEDTER: Absolutely. Yeah. We have absolute full support of the board for Boise Music Week. I mean, everybody wants Into the Woods to be on the Morrison Center stage. There is no plan B right now. Everybody is moving forward with that in their hearts and minds.

PRENTICE: I'm old enough to have seen the original production. So, I've seen.. let's see: Bernadette Peters and Phylicia Rashad, and Vanessa Williams in the revival. So,talk to me about your inspiration for this role.

NEUSTAEDTER: So, when I first was introduced to this musical, I was a college senior at Occidental College and…I didn't get it, I auditioned, but I didn't get it. And so instead I did hair and makeup. It was a really emotional time for me anyway, graduating and… so the themes just hit me. I was very emotionally raw. And it has such beautiful, powerful themes about life and loss and love and forgiveness and longing. I mean, it just hits all of it. And it fundamentally changed me. And ever since then, my quest to actually be in the musical has followed me. At that time, I resonated more with the role of the Baker's Wife… some of the more romantic longings and trying to work things out with a partner and that kind of thing. But over time, it shifted to where the Witch's energy and the struggles that she is having in her life really hit more home. And so, for the past…probably 15 years, specifically, it’s being the Witch.

PRENTICE: Certainly themes of…. Heartbreak, illusion of beauty…what is beauty?...and loss, and then, obviously the ever-lasting theme of children. So, details on this are at BoiseMusicWeek.org. So, I've heard a rumor that you'll be performing in-person here in Boise. So, safety protocols are beginning to lift. So, are we going to be able to get your wonderful voice live in-person? In nightclubs or venues?

NEUSTAEDTER: Yes, that rumor was true. That rumor has some truth. I actually did do a live show at the Sapphire Room, and that was my first one. And I will have several engagements at both the Sandbar and Bar365, all associated with Riverside Hotel. So, if people wanted to look up their calendar, they'll find me. I'll probably be there five or six times between now and August.

PRENTICE: Boy, that sounds like the summer that we lost last year. She is Leta Harris Neustaedter. Thank you so very much. We look forward to hearing you virtually as the Witch this year and certainly in-person next year. You are an extraordinary artist and thank you so much for giving us some time this morning.

NEUSTAEDTER: Thank you very much.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

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