Into the Woods – When a Musical Is More than Just a Musical
We all have our favorite musical, this is something most of us cannot deny. We feel guilty choosing one, but we do. Still, some of us take our obsession with a particular musical to a new level, and mine has always been with the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical Into the Woods. There is so much wisdom and understanding of human nature buried inside this musical that, every time I return to it, I learn something new or make an observation that I hadn’t the first 200 times I’ve watched, listened to, or read it.
“Why?” you may ask. That is a good question. I was fourteen years old when Into the Woods first opened on Broadway and vaguely recall seeing ads here and there. This also happened to be around the time I saw my first Broadway musical, so I remember going to NYC and seeing a giant boot poised over The Martin Beck Theatre, ready to clomp down and crush passersby. This may have been what got my attention, but the show’s startling poster of gnarled trees spelling out the title, with a wolf’s head growing out of the branches and looming over a huddled mass of fairy tale characters, is what truly reeled me in. Of course, I had to get the original cast recording, mostly because this picture had hypnotized me.
Things at home weren’t too great when I first listened to Into the Woods. My parents were divorcing in a less-than-cordial way (to put it nicely) and as I listened to the songs, I escaped into the world of fantasy. How was I to know that in the forest glades and down the winding paths of this wonderful story, I would learn lessons about forgiveness, an understanding for the mistakes our parents make, and receive an awakening about the effects our words and actions have? I would sit in my room and sob over songs like “No One Is Alone”, “Stay with Me”, “No More” and “Children Will Listen.”
Later in life, I had the opportunity to play The Baker in a production. I have also directed the show once and designed scenery for it. Each journey with Into the Woods taught me new things: how important it is to impart wisdom to the next generation, how we never stop being children where our parents are concerned, how community makes us stronger. Perhaps the most eye-opening (and maybe a touch frightening) part of Into the Woods is how it cautions us against taking too many things for granted, “Careful…no one is alone.” This is a musical that resonates to different people at different stages in their life.
My obsession with fairy tales combined with my academic fascination of the musical’s structure, music and messages have made Into the Woods the musical continues to have a magnetic hold over me. It is for this reason why I wish to dedicate the next year of my life writing a book that captures the story of its creation, explores its themes, and preserves one of the most deeply adaptable and affecting musicals of all time for posterity.