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Into the Woods

Into the Woods is a musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by James Lapine[?]. Inspired by Bruno Bettelheim[?]'s The Uses of Enchantment, the first act of the musical tells the familiar fairy tales of Little Red Riding Hood[?], Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel[?], and Cinderella, as well as an original tale, the Baker and his Wife, which ties together all of the other stories. In the second act, we see what happens after the endings of those stories, when the land is ravaged by the wife of the giant whose death Jack caused when he chopped down the beanstalk. The show explores the consequences of the actions taken in the first act and the need for community. Among the notable songs in the musical are the title song, "Hello, Little Girl", "Giants in the Sky", "Agony", "Moments in the Woods", "No More", "No One Is Alone", and "Children Will Listen".

Plot summary

In the first act, we are immediately introduced to most of the major players and their ultimate goals, essentially following the known plots of these stories. Cinderella wants to go to the ball; Jack has to sell his cow but doesn't want to; the Baker and his Wife are poor, but want a child. We learn quickly that the reason they cannot reproduce is because the witch next door has cursed them with a barren life. She sends them out into the forest to fetch four items for a potion: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold. Naturally, with some difficulty, they get all of these items (the cow from Jack, the cape from Little Red Riding Hood, the slipper from Cinderella, the hair from Rapunzel).

Certain other facts are also revealed: two princes are pursuing Cinderella and Rapunzel; Rapunzel is the sister of the baker, and she was raised by his neighbour, the witch; a mysterious man is roaming the woods. At the end of the act, almost everyone is seemingly happy. The baker and his wife are expecting; the witch has taken the potion and become beautiful and young again (but in exchange for her powers); Cinderella has married her prince and her stepmother and stepsisters have been punished with blindness; Rapunzel has been rescued from her tower, has borne twins and married her prince (but lost her hair); Jack and his mother are now wealthy thanks to the stolen goods from the giant in the sky (but with a dead giant in the backyard). Even Red Riding Hood is happy, simply for having escaped the wolf (a scene in which paedophilic undertones are very heavily implied).

In the second act, everything is turned upside down. The wife of the slain giant is rampaging the land. She stomps through the baker's village, destroying everyone's homes. Red Riding Hood arrives shortly thereafter to announce that her mother was killed when her house blew down. The witch, now having no powers to defend herself, must join up with them to search the forest and stop the giant. Jack, too, sets off as he feels responsible for the onset of terror. Cinderella, who has found contentment with the prince, sneaks out in her peasent clothes to see what she can do to help. And so, all of our characters are once again out in the woods.

Soon they split up, and begin to die violently. Rapunzel is crushed by the giantess (after she runs towards her hysterically, because she thinks the giantess has killed her prince). Jack's mother is killed by a blow to the head from the royal Steward, who is attempting to quiet her hysterics. Eventually the royal family (Cinderella's father, stepmother and sisters and the steward), Riding Hood, Jack, the Witch, the Baker and his Wife cluster together for safety. The royal family leaves, claiming to know a far away kingdom to escape to, and are consequently crushed. Meanwhile the two Princes, who seemingly should be working to save everyone, are instead singing of two new women who they wish to pursue, Snow White and the Sleeping Beauty.

As the survivors count their options, they decide to split up. The baker's wife goes off alone and encounters Cinderella's prince, with whom she has a sexual liaison. As he leaves her shortly after, she is crushed to death by a falling tree knocked astray by the giantess. Everyone reconvenes and as it is revealed that everyone's loved one (Rapunzel to the witch, Jack's mother, Red Riding Hood's mother, Cinderella's entire family and husband, and the Baker's wife) is dead, a fight ensues trying to place blame. Eventually they decide that the witch is to blame because she raised the beans that grew the stalk to the giant's world. The witch, who essentially has been the only character of pure intent throughout the ordeal, cannot stand the madness and kills herself.

With only Jack, Red, Cinderella and the Baker (and child) left alive, they concoct a scheme to slay the giant using things they have learned in their journey. Cinderella spreads pitch on the ground to make the giant stick (like she did on the stairs at the ball); Jack waits in a tree with a club (like he did to kill the giant's husband); Red Riding Hood uses herself as bait (much as she did to rescue her grandmother from the wolf); and the Baker stands by with his child, knowing no woman could ever kill a baby. Cinderella calls to her bird friends, who peck out the giant woman's eyes, and Jack slays her.

In the end they resolve to make a new life with no more violence and selfishness, and are visited by the ghostly memories of their loved ones. It seems a bittersweet but happy ending as it appears everyone has learned their lesson until, just a second after the very last note of the last song is sung, Cinderella steps away from the ensemble and sings, "I Wish!" and the lights go down, indicating that perhaps human beings will never learn their lesson after all.

Productions

Into the Woods opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre on November 5, 1987. It starred Bernadette Peters, Joanna Gleason, Chip Zein, Kim Crosby, Ben Wright, Danielle Ferland, and Robert Westenberg. The original production won the 1988 Drama Critic's Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical, and the Original Cast Recording won a Grammy Award.

The show was revived on Broadway in 2001 with an unknown cast, excepting singer Vanessa Williams as the witch. The plot was retooled, with a subplot added involving The Three Little Pigs[?]. Critics were kind to the show, but loyal fans put it down, stressing that the important adult messages of the original production were now undermined with a seeming sense of flippancy.



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