Into the Woods

Last week I saw the new production of the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical “Into the Woods.” It is part of this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park and runs through August. The tickets are free BUT they will cost you a boatload of time. The tickets are given out starting at one, but people start lining up before six in the morning. A dear friend of mine got there at a quarter to eight. He had his phone, Kindle App on his iPad and computer with an Internet hotspot to keep him company. He figured out that, at his professional hourly rate our tickets — among the last few to be given out — were the most expensive tickets he’d ever “bought.”

I enjoyed the show and with the sun slowly setting during the first act, the woods behind the open-air theater added another dimension to the setting. By the start of the second act, the dark sky reflected the darkness in the story.

“Into the Woods” uses a few of the most famous of the Grimm fairy tales as a starting point. In the first act all the characters — Jack (of beanstalk fame), Little Red Riding Hood, The Baker and His Wife, Cinderella and all the other characters — including the witch — want something desperately. And get their happy endings. The second act — the darker act that began when the summer night sky was dark blue and the moon hung like a piece of scenery up stage left — opens AFTER everyone has gotten what they wished for, only to discover that getting what you wish for is not what it’s cracked up to be.

Neither Cinderella nor the Prince is satisfied with their marriage. After all, he was “raised to be charming not sincere.” The Baker and his wife love their new baby, but their tiny cottage is crowded and life is stressful. I won’t even try to describe what’s happened to Rapunzel and the rest. It’s a wonderful story and a beautiful score.

There are fairy tale monsters. The gigantic and vengeful Giant’s wife wants James to pay for slaying her gigantic husband and looting their home. But the biggest monsters are the characters themselves, for investing so much in their wishes in the first place and for their belief in the happily ever after of their dreams.

It’s very moving.

I felt tears welling up as the witch (Donna Murphy) began to sing “Children Will Listen.” That’s one of those songs that always gets me. It goes beyond the clichéd warning “be careful what you wish for” and delves into the messes we make even when our intentions are good.

“Into the Woods” reflects the real meaning — and real use — of fairy tales. The warnings, the lessons, and the terrible things that happen to characters in the old Grimm stories are completely unlike the sanitized versions in contemporary children’s movies and books. No wonder YA literature (“Hunger Games” etc.) is full of jeopardy and danger. If every Cinderella story you’ve ever heard ended with a royal wedding and the words: THE END, of course you’re craving the real MONSTERS that lurk in the woods.


  1. -grinds teeth- Oh how I wish I could have seen that! And heard it.

    I wonder /why/ we try to wrap our kids up in cotton wool so much? Is the world really so much more dangerous now than it used to be?

    • Candy

      It’s funny because — although the world in general seems to be much more dangerous — New York City is significantly safer. When I went to college none of us took subways alone in the evening and now I routinely take the subway home alone long after midnight. Street crime is down, all sorts of crime is down. I’m worried now, because the tanking economy might bring back the “bad old days.” But that’s another thing.

      Of course even this wonderful safety comes with a caveat. The edgy New York, the rude New York, the scary, vulgar, exciting places like the Lower East Side and Times Square and the East Village are all cleaned up. The Times Square/Theater District had more peep shows and dirty movie theaters than legitimate theaters and now it’s got entirely too many touristy stores and restaurants. Sometimes I think Disney or a suburban mall has invaded. Fortunately the Broadway theaters are alive and well!

      I’m not saying that I want to live in a dangerous city. I just want a little real edginess. And, if it’s not on my city streets, it should at least be in the fiction I read and the entertainment I see.

  2. I saw this play awhile ago the summer that the Idaho Shakespeare Festival put it on. It’s great to see how fairy tales continue to inspire and teach, not to mention the creative ways that the stories can be re-written.

    • Candy

      Fairy tales, classical myths, even the origin stories of comic book heroes… are the stories we all know, love and can use to create something new!

      Into the Woods is only one of the many examples. A great one!

  3. Metan

    Cautionary tales performed outdoors? Love it!
    I always look for the silver lining, but I know full well that the silver lining is ony there because of the horribly dark cloud… be careful what you ask for indeed!

    It sounds like a great night 🙂

    • Candy

      A magical night of theater! Especially good because of the setting.

      I saw it on Broadway a while back — missed the original production, but the revival I saw was first rate. It’s fairy tales, but it’s not for little kids. Well, maybe me as a little kid and you and, from what you’ve said, your kids, but… there was a little girl seated behind us in the Broadway theater. These were orchestra seats (very expensive) and her parents had never taught her to be quiet when the house lights go down. They had also never taught her that every word she spoke, every response to what was on stage wasn’t the most interesting thing in the world — crazy!

      Anyway, so glad I saw it again and IN the closest thing to WOODS in Manhattan!

      • Metan

        Aaarrrggh! I would have wanted to strangle that child! There is a time and a place for everything and you are doing your kids a favour (and everyone around them) if you teach them the societal rules.

        Seeing those Grimm tales in actual woods would have made them even more wonderful, so lucky 🙂

        • Candy

          Especially lucky that my friend was willing to get up entirely too early and wait on line for hours. What a scene. Something between a picnic with strangers and a reunion of musical theater fanatics.

  4. From
    The original 1987 Broadway production for Into the Woods starred Bernadette Peters as the Witch, Joanna Gleason as the Baker’s Wife, Chip Zien as the Baker, Tom Aldredge as the Mysterious Man/ Narrator and Barbara Bryne as Jack’s Mother. The first Broadway revival in 2002 starred Vanessa Williams as the Witch, John McMartin as the Narrator/ Mysterious Man and Laura Benanti as Cinderella. Both Broadway productions were directed by James Lapine the librettist. In July of 2012, New York’s Shakespeare in the Park production featured Donna Murphy as the Witch, Amy Adams as the Baker’s Wife and Denis O’Hare as the Baker.

    Your post got me to see it [at least the first several minutes] again online. The version with the original cast above is available on NetFlix [both on DVD and online]. As soon as I have the 153 minutes to watch the entire production I will]. The last time I saw it was on PBS in 1991 [March 20th episode of American Playhouse]

    THANKS for the memory. 🙂

    • Candy

      Thanks for the Netflix suggestion!
      I saw the revival with Vanessa Williams as the witch and heard recordings of the original but …. I’d really like to see that video!

        • Candy

          Yes, but it’s impossible to compare a video to being in the theater. Vanessa Williams was electric — but that’s in person. I love Bernadette Peters and have seen her in many shows…. Wow, an embarrassment of riches!

          • Sorry for the delay, but I never received notice for your last reply. Just curious, have you had the opportunity to view the video yet? If you have, what did you think of it, especially Bernadette.

          • Candy

            No, I haven’t had a chance to track down the video of Bernadette Peters. It’s on the HUGE to-do list. I adore her and I’ve seen her many times in plays. I was happy to see her as the mom on SMASH on TV, too. Sort of met her a few years ago. She was learning to dance tango and my friend was teaching her, so I was introduced. As short as me in person! (And I have curly hair too.)

          • The video is on [see above].
            Go to their site, click on “WATCH INSTANTLY” at the top of the screen on the left and then enter the title on the right. Of course you can always order the actual DVD from them.