You have to, every now and then…
Into The Woods
By James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim
“Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell, children will listen…”
Today I’m participating in a Fairy Tale Blogathon, hosted by Movies Silently! I highly encourage you to check out the other posts, where bloggers are exploring movies (and shows) inspired by Fairy Tales.
Of course, I snatched up Into The Woods (and by snatched I mean I saw that no one had said they’d write about it and was downright gleeful). I’ve written a bit already about Into The Woods (and have plans to go see it…perhaps on Christmas.)
Into The Woods is one of those shows that weaves together well known fairy-tales, with new twists. Into The Woods also draws on other works. In an interview in the Paris Review, Sondheim notes that, while people seem to see Into The Woods as being influenced by the work of Bruno Bettelheim, it has a strong influence of Jung. (The Paris Review Interviews IV, Page 275)
The opening song introduces us to The Narrator, Cinderella (and her stepsisters, stepmother, and father), Jack (of beanstalk fame) and his mother, Little Red Ridding Hood, THE witch (and Rapunzel, peripherally), and a baker and his wife. Later we are introduced to a handful of other characters, including two princes (Cinderella’s and Rapunzel’s), the wolf, a mysterious old man, a Giant, and (very peripherally) Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.
I love this show. I love the music, I love the storytelling, I love the characterizations.
The first act is a beautiful intertwining of stories — as each character searches for their wish, Cinderella wants to go to the festival, the baker and his wife wish for a child, Jack just wants his cow to give them milk, Little Red just wants to go to grandmothers house (well, and perhaps more cookies). And the witch, well, she simply offers up a way for the Baker to lift the spell that has been placed on his house (“for purposes of her own”). What he needs to end the spell is simple: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.
In search for these items the characters meet and interact, we learn a depth to their characters, we see different edges to their stories. Until the end, where “all that seemed wrong was not right, and those who deserved to were certain to live a long and happy life. Ever after…”
The Fairy Tales are familiar ones, and there are certain moments throughout the story where the audience has some sort of inside knowledge, because you know the story of Little Red Ridding Hood, you know that Cinderella gets her prince, you know that Jack will flee the giant.
But Into The Woods isn’t just a clever weaving of a number of stories, with a little added depth. The second act seems committed to unwinding what has been so neatly (sort of) tied up in the first act.
Act Two looks at the consequences. The first song of the second act is again about wishes, to sponsor a festival, for more room, to return to the kingdom in the sky. Minor wishes, among the normal life that has settled on them. But then all bets are off when a giant visits the lands, looking for the boy that killed her husband.
Sondheim notes that Into the Woods is “about moral responsibility — the responsibility you have in getting your wish not to cheat and step on other people’s toes, because it rebounds. The second act is about the consequences of not only the wishes themselves but of the methods by which the characters achieve their wishes, which are not always proper and moral.” (Sondheim, The Paris Review Interviews IV, page 275)
The second act brings so much into question, bringing the characters together and apart again — making them ask questions, face fears, deal with loss, and face consequences. What is “good” and “bad” is brought into question, we are given the challenge to think about the other side of things.
Witch (to Little Red): Since when are you so squeamish? How many wolves have you carved up?
Little Red: A wolf’s not the same.
Witch: As a wolf’s mother!
This is one of the exchanges I love, but there are many of them. And I certainly don’t want to ruin the way that the story’s unravel (and reconnect to come to their own, new conclusion). You should just watch it, if you haven’t already. It’s a brilliant retelling. You can watch a video version of the Original Broadway Cast (which is amazing…simply amazing talents) now, and you can check out the movie version coming out on Christmas. I’m pretty sure a review of that movie will be appearing on this blog sometime shortly after…
“Into the woods, each time you go,
there’s more to learn of what you know.”