Last week I read an article by Scott that Disney is planning a film adaptation of the musical ‘Into The Woods,’ which both excited and terrified me. Excited because I love this musical, and terrified that it will be ruined somehow. We’ve all loved a book or story that has been ruined in the movie-making process (ahem, ‘A Wrinkle in Time) – it’s like putting your precious jewels in the care of someone else, and hoping they know not to store them in a fish tank.
‘Into the Woods’ starts out with the familiar stories of several fairy tale characters. The Baker and his Wife long for a child they can’t conceive, Cinderella wants to go to the Prince’s ball but has to deal with her stepmother and stepsisters, Jack must sell his cow and best friend, and Little Red Riding Hood is preparing for a trip to see Granny. The Witch who lives next door to the Baker reveals there’s been a spell placed on the Baker’s family because of some magic beans that his father stole from her garden in the past. This spell has rendered the entire family line infertile – but the spell can be lifted with the gathering of just a few supplies: “the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold.” And just like that, the characters and their adventures are connected through the baker’s quest.
Other characters come in as well. Rapunzel shows up in her tower, as well as the two Princes and an anatomically-correct Wolf (once you notice it, you can’t look away). The first half concludes with the happy endings we all know. It’s after the intermission when the lights come back up that things get interesting. What happens to Red Riding Hood after she’s disemboweled a wolf that swallowed her whole? How can Rupunzel cope after living alone in a tower her entire life? Will Jack be satisfied with normal country life after seeing giants in the sky? And can two dashing and charming Princes settle into married life when another dangerous adventure presents itself?
I’ve read that when this musical is presented to younger children, they will often conclude it at the happy ending. I can see why they would do that, I suppose, but for me the real story begins after the happily ever after. Some pretty insane things happen in fairy tales, and it’s in the second half of the show that we get to explore the fallout. One of my favorite lines comes from one of the Princes to the baker’s wife: “Life is often so unpleasant/You must know that, as a peasant.” It’s funny because it’s true!
Of course, the character I love the most is the Witch, played by the unbelievable Bernadette Peters. She’s witty and hits all the humorous notes, but she can also deliver heart-wrenching sadness at losing the only family she’s ever known. Long before ‘Wicked’ came along, I was seeing things from this Witch’s point of view. Here’s a beautiful section from the Witch:
You’re so nice.
You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice.
I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m just right.
I’m the witch, you’re the world.
It’s about a world with a more complex morality than the black and white lessons taught to us by fairy tales, and that’s what takes it from a show for children to a story for adults. I highly recommend this musical – it’s funny and clever, and makes you think. Just be sure to overlook Red Riding Hood’s wig, if you watch the original.
The original 1987 cast performance is available for purchase on CD through amazon.com, as well as on Netflix streaming.