Into the Woods
 by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine
 Stetson University Stover Theatre
 October 2000

After the success of the 1998 production of Radio Gals, this renowned popular musical became the first full-scale collaboration between the Theatre Arts and the School of Music Vocal Performance programs since I have been teaching at Stetson.

Into the Woods is a mostly humorous but often dark reworking of familiar fairy tale characters as three-dimensional human beings struggling within the stereotypes of their own respective stories. The play was inspired by child psychologist Bruno Bettleheim’s book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of FairyTales, in which the author justifies the often-censored imagery of fairy tales. Presenting the characters in the process of self-discovery, the play restores some of the brutality, horror, and sexuality revealed by the Brothers Grimm in their versions of the tales.

The play focuses on four familiar characters—Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel—whose journey toward maturity is revealed through their journey through the Woods. An indecisive Cinderella flees her Prince because she has doubts about a relationship with him; a thoughtless Jack sets the Giant’s wife on a murderous rampage after he kills her husband; Little Red Riding Hood’s obsession with food becomes an obsession with bloodshed after she is released from the Wolf’s belly; and Rapunzel’s flight with her Prince causes a painful parting with the Witch, who raised Rapunzel as her own daughter. The four tales are connected by the Baker and his Wife, who are sent into the Woods to seek a charm that will allow them to bear a child. In this play, as often in life, the characters find something unexpected in their journey that helps them become more human.

The concept for this play centered on the plot device in the second act in which the characters rebel against the narrator in an attempt to take control of their own lives, to "re-write" themselves in their journey toward self-actualization. In order to highlight these "two-dimensional" characters in their quest to live "three-dimensional" lives, the visual design included a careful blend of two-dimensional and three-dimensional elements. The stage was dominated by a representation of the Woods, which contained trees whose vertical elements (trunks and branches) were composed of flat scenery, sitting atop a huge three-dimensional root system composed of platforms and staircases.

With a nod towards the trans-culturality of the fairy tales, a gregarious narrator was costumed to give a middle-eastern, Arabian Nights flair. All of the characters represented as props in the Broadway production (Jack’s cow, the hen that laid the golden egg, birds, the ballgown-dispensing tree, etc.) were played by actor/puppeteers.

Into the Woods is sometimes performed without the second act, especially at high schools, where the more mature and serious messages of the play are avoided. This production presented the play in its entirety, except with some judicious cuts designed to reduce the union orchestra commitment to under three hours.

Review from the student newspaper

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Copyright © 2003 by Ken McCoy.