Katy Geraghty is having the kind of full-circle moment bound to make anyone dizzy. Playing Little Red Ridinghood in the Sondheim musical “Into the Woods,” now at the Emerson Colonial Theatre through April 2, Geraghty is back in the Boston area, performing not far from her hometown of Gloucester, where she came of age as an actress.
On top of that, she’s returning to one of the roles that shaped her as a performer, in a show from which she’s drawn many “life lessons.” Geraghty, who graduated from Gloucester High School, previously played Little Red three times in the Boston area — when she was 9 at the North Shore Music Theatre’s Youth Performance Academy, around age 12 at Boston Children’s Theatre, and at Salem State University’s Summer Theatre when she was 16.
Those experiences, she says, helped crystallize the idea that performing was the path she wanted to take in life, and it was also the first time she realized she could be funny. To play the cape-wearing, switchblade-wielding Little Red this time, she’s tapping into everything she learned about the role from doing it before.
“I feel like those past productions are gently guiding me through this one,” she says. “I can’t help but feel each past iteration with me, like the ghosts of the past are onstage, and the little kid who did it a long time ago is coming out in small moments. But I’m also approaching it as the actor, human, and woman that I am now.”
“Into the Woods,” starring bold-faced Broadway names like Montego Glover, Stephanie J. Block, and Gavin Creel, has arrived at the Colonial on a 10-city tour, following its acclaimed six-month run on Broadway. The show mashes up familiar fairy tales, but with all the dark shadings and harsh realities of adulthood. In the first act, the characters hope and dream and yearn for their happily-ever-after and go on obstacle-filled quests to attain their wishes. In the second act, the repercussions of fulfilling those desires reverberate in new ways as they face a vengeful giant who brings turbulence and destruction.
Geraghty, 29, as Little Red, brings an entitled and giddily defiant spirit, as well as poignancy, to a scene-stealing part. As Little Red helps herself to a trove of sugary treats, skips across the stage with her basket of baked goods, and tangles with a flamboyantly sinister Wolf (Creel), Geraghty delivers deadpan witticisms, eye-rolling put-downs, and arch comebacks.
“She’s really sassy and snarky, which is something I come by naturally,” Geraghty says. “She’s also smart as a whip. I wanted to make her a sharp-witted, intense little kid. But then later on, we get to see her softer side come out, and that’s who I am. I have a soft underbelly but I have to know you to show you that.”
As for the switchblade Geraghty wields after fending off the big bad Wolf? “People comment on that all the time — ‘It looks very comfortable in your hands.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, it’s not my first switchblade,’ ” she jokes. “She’s me at my most monstrous, but in a delicious way.”
Indeed, the role has given her a big confidence boost. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt more powerful,” she says. “I’ve realized that playing her every night has made me significantly [bolder] in my own daily life, which I’m thoroughly enjoying.”
Her acting career began as kind of a lark. As a kid, she took dance classes and wanted to audition for Boston Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” So her mom brought her to North Shore Music Theatre when she was 7 to get some audition experience. Then, unexpectedly, she was cast in a youth production. “It was never a plan,” she says. “It just kind of accidentally happened.”
When Geraghty was 12, she says her mom tried to “teach me the lesson that Broadway was hard,” so she brought her to New York to audition for the national tour of “Annie.” There were about 700 kids in the morning, she notes, and by the end of the day 12 were left standing, including the young Geraghty. “My mother was just beside herself — that she was trying to teach me this lesson, and I went in and booked the job!” she recalls with a laugh.
Geraghty’s family (she’s the middle of three girls) decided the sacrifice of doing a tour wasn’t tenable at that point. But over the years, she honed her performing chops at North Shore Music Theatre, Boston Children’s Theatre, and other area stages. She played spitfire Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray” at Neverland Theatre and Marblehead Little Theatre. At her high school, she was Winnifred in “Once Upon a Mattress,” Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors,” and Mrs. Paroo in “The Music Man.”
After graduating from UMass-Amherst, she made her Broadway debut in the musical “Groundhog Day” in 2017, a job she landed through some help from a NSMT connection. “My whole career has been this crazy series of accidents that just has led me here,” she says. “I’m never really convinced that this is what I do.”
Last year, Geraghty was in the Toronto tryout of the new musical “& Juliet” before it landed on Broadway. She performed in “Hairspray” and “Alice in Wonderland” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and has been helping to develop a new musical comedy “Bliss,” which premiered in Seattle in 2020 and has its sights set on Broadway. In that show, four unconventional headstrong princesses escape their sheltered lives and set out on a life-changing journey. “I played Princess Carmella. She’s a dramatic diva. She lives all her emotions big and out loud,” Geraghty says. “Carmella and Little Red are absolutely cut from the same cloth.”
Returning to the Boston area, she wasn’t expecting to feel “as overwhelmed” as she has. She estimates that some 200 people from her circle — family, friends, one-time classmates and cast mates, former teachers and mentors — have come to cheer her on at the Colonial since “Into the Woods” opened a week ago, and she’s feeling all that love. At one of the first performances, she was giddy about hearing her grandfather’s whistle, her father’s laugh, and a former neighbor woohoo-ing.
“I can almost feel the hands on me that have gently pushed me through my whole career,” she says. “Hearing their praise and pride has been ridiculously humbling, and I’ve never been as aware of how big my circle of supporters and cheerleaders is. It feels like such an ‘Oh, I actually did it!’ moment.”
Christopher Wallenberg can be reached at email@example.com.