Molly Ringwald(Photo: © Michael Portantiere)
Molly Ringwald
(Photo: © Michael Portantiere)
When actors become movie stars at a tender age, it's natural to assume that they leapt to the big screen with little or no professional stage work under their belts -- but that assumption is not always correct. A case in point is Molly Ringwald, who trod the boards years before she co-starred in such flicks as Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club.

"I was in the first West Coast production of Annie," says Ringwald. "I'm an old pro! I started out singing with my dad's band, then I went into musicals, and then I started doing movies. But I never really stopped doing theater; I just didn't do it as much when I was living in California because there was less opportunity there."

After consorting with other members of "The Brat Pack" in the films noted above, Ringwald lived in Paris for several years and took a hiatus from acting. When she returned to America, she settled in New York with the intention of re-establishing her stage career. This she has done, winning a Theatre World Award for her performance in Horton Foote's Lily-Dale and earning praise as a replacement cast member in Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive, Jonathan Larson's tick...tick...BOOM! and the long-running Broadway revival of the John Kander-Fred Ebb-Joe Masteroff musical Cabaret.

Now, Ringwald is one of the stars of Enchanted April, a new Broadway stage adaptation of the best-selling 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim that also served as the basis for a popular 1992 film. "I've seen the movie, but this is really different," says Ringwald. "I think it goes more into depth and the characters are a little more clearly defined. My character is not the same as the one that Miranda Richardson played in the movie; you get to know more about her and why she is so unhappy at the beginning of the story." Though Ringwald hadn't previously read the von Arnim novel, she has done so since being cast in the show. "We're more based on the novel than on the film," she says, "but the play is very different from both. Matthew Barber, the playwright, has done so much work on the characters that even the names had to change. My character was called Rose Arbuthnot in the book and in the film, but in the play she's Rose Arnott."

Enchanted April is about four English women whose vacation in Italy turns out to be life changing. Has Ringwald ever had such an experience? "I think going to France was like that for me," she says. "I went there to work and I just decided to stay. Enchanted April is about following your bliss. These people happen to find it in Italy, but it could be anywhere. It's about some place that brings you back to who you really are. Repression is also a big issue in the play because it's set in post-war England, when there were all sorts of rules about the way that women were supposed to behave. We've been studying World War I to get us into the proper frame of mind -- and it was a horrific war. These people lived through a very dark period with a tremendous amount of loss, and that's one of the reasons why going to Italy and coming together is so important to them.

(l-r) Dagmara Dominczyk, Molly Ringwald, Jayne Atkinson,and Elizabeth Ashley at rehearsals for Enchanted April
(l-r) Dagmara Dominczyk, Molly Ringwald, Jayne Atkinson,
and Elizabeth Ashley at rehearsals for Enchanted April
"I just have to gush about our company," Ringwald adds during a break in rehearsals on a late March morning. "Michael Wilson, our director, is incredible, and so is the cast -- Jayne Atkinson, Elizabeth Ashley, Patricia Conolly, Michael Cumpsty, and Michael Hayden. Every day of rehearsal is exciting."

Thus far -- knock on wood! -- Ringwald's New York theater experiences in general have been extremely fulfilling. She got to work with both Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall when she went into Cabaret, though not extensively; "Sam was doing The Road to Perdition and Rob was doing Chicago when I came into the show," she says, "but they both came and gave notes. And I got to work with Scott Schwartz on tick...tick...BOOM! That was just after 9/11."

Taking over the one female role in that three-person musical was a real labor of love for Ringwald, since she was a good friend of Jonathan Larson. "I'd known him from the time I moved back from Paris up until he died," she says. "I'm sorry I never got to work with him on a show -- but he did help me put my closet together, so we worked together in that way! When I moved back to New York, I had carted with me this closet that was completely irrational. I was trying to put it together and I was just sort of hopeless. At the time, Jonathan was working on Rent, getting it ready to open at the New York Theatre Workshop. We would spend half the day putting this ridiculous closet together, then we would go down to the corner bistro and he'd tell me about Rent. He also helped me pick out a power drill; I was terrified of moving into this apartment by myself but he said, 'You have to learn to like the hardware store.' I actually like the hardware store now because I totally associate it with Jonathan. He was a really nice man."

As for Enchanted April, Ringwald notes that the show seems to be working its own special brand of magic on those involved. "Our entire cast is plotting a big Italian vacation that we're going to take after our run," she says. "When I tell people that I've lived in Paris, they say, 'Oh, I've always wanted to do that!' And I think, 'Well, why don't you?' Of course, there's the financial burden, but look at what people spend money on -- giant-screen TVs or whatever. It comes down to priorities, and people don't usually put their sense of well-being as a priority. I think that we should, and this play definitely makes people think that they should. It's a lovely piece."