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Into the Woods

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The Writing of Into the Woods

Noel KatzCommentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

There's a principle to healthy eating we've all learned: We're supposed to trim the fat off our meat. But, as any chef will tell you, the fat is essential to the flavor. A cut of beef that's too lean will fail to satisfy.

A friend of mine says she enjoyed Into the Woods, but didn't want to come back after intermission. She'd had enough.

Here's a show that's so lean - that rushes, without pausing, to do so many things "that it's actually tiring to watch. The experience is that of listening to a loquacious storyteller who never pauses to take a breath. There's much to be admired in Into the Woods, and, as I said, cutting out fat is usually a good idea, but there's very little to be emulated.

For instance, Into the Woods puts much of its action off-stage. Then, characters come on and comment about what's just happened, or simply tell us. We don't see Jack stealing from the giants, or Cinderella leaving her shoe, or even Rapunzel letting down her hair. This works, to an extent, because the fairy tales are already familiar to us; we don't need to see every beat of the story. And sometimes hearing a character describe what we already know has happened can be humorous, as with the story of the Prince climbing Rapunzel's hair.

In fact, it's the wit of Into the Woods that lets it get away with so many storytelling flaws. But wit has two forms. There are jokes that get laughs, such as the bit about the gender of the cow. And there are dazzling bits of word play, such as the alliteration in the witch's rap about her garden. It all sounds so clever, it's easy to ignore the fact that the word play is amazing us, but not producing laughter. And does anybody really know what "rampion" is?

Bruno Bettleheim's famous analysis of fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment, explored the psychological and even sexual underpinnings of the stories we were all told as children. It's a fascinating subject, and Into the Woods illustrates some of the theses with the subtext heard in songs like "Hello Little Girl" and "Giants in the Sky." However, "Giants in the Sky" and "I Know Things Now" are dramatically inert: young characters are addressing the audience, describing the lessons they've learned. It's much more interesting to me to watch revelations affect characters as they're happening.

That second act my friend would like to have missed is filled with sadness and death. The song "No One Is Alone" portrays our hope for someone to watch over us in an effective way, using a sostenuto tempo and ever-not-resolving suspended chords. It ends without resolving, leaving open the question of whether there's really help Out There.

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DVD

Into the WoodsInto the Woods (DVD) from Amazon.com 1991 film of the stage version of Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award winning show depicting society and the world through the eyes of the most famous fairy tales centered around a baker & his wife. James Lapine, director. Starring Bernadette Peters, Chip Zien, Joanna Gleason, Tom Aldredge, Robert Westenberg, Kim Crosby, and more

ALSO IN: The Stephen Sondheim Collection (Into the Woods / Sunday in the Park with George / Follies in Concert / Passion / Sweeney Todd in Concert / A Celebration at Carnegie Hall)

Cast Recordings

Into the Woods - 1987Into the Woods (1987 Original Broadway Cast) Songs include: Prologue: Into the Woods, Cinderella at the Grave, Hello, Little Girl, I Guess This Is Goodbye / Maybe They're Magic, Our Little World, I Know Things Now, A Very Nice Prince / First Midnight / Giants in the Sky, Agony, It Takes Two, Stay with Me, On the Steps of the Palace, Ever After, Prologue: So Happy, Agony (Reprise), Lament, Any Moment / Moments in the Woods, Your Fault / Last Midnight, No More, No One Is Alone, Finale: Children Will Listen

Into the Woods 2002Into the Woods (2002 Broadway Revival Cast) with Vanessa Williams and others. Songs include: Prologue: Into the Woods, Cinderella at the Grave, Hello, Little Girl, I Guess This Is Goodbye / Maybe They're Magic, Our Little World, I Know Things Now, A Very Nice Prince / First Midnight / Giants in the Sky, Agony, It Takes Two, Stay with Me, On the Steps of the Palace, Ever After, Prologue: So Happy, Agony (Reprise), Lament, Any Moment / Moments in the Woods, Your Fault / Last Midnight, No More, No One Is Alone, and Finale: Children Will Listen

Into the Woods (1991 Original London Cast) Songs include: Prologue: Once Upon A Time, Prologue: Into The Woods, Prologue: Fly Birds, Back To The Sky, Prologue: Witch's Entrance, Prologue: Jack, Jack, Jack, Head In A Sack, Prologue: You Wish To Have The Curse Reversed?, Prologue: Ladies, Our Carriage Waits, Prologue: The Curse Is On My House, Prologue: Into The Woods, Cinderella At The Grave, Hello, Little Girl, I Guess This Is Goodbye, Maybe They're Magic, Our Little World, I Know Things Now, A Very Nice Prince, First Midnight, Giants In The Sky, Agony, It Takes Two, Stay With Me, On The Steps Of The Palace, Finale: Ever After, Prologue: So Happy, Agony, Lament, Any Moment, Moments In The Woods, Your Fault, Last Midnight, No More, No One Is Alone, and Finale: Children Will Still Listen

Sheet Music

"No One Is Alone" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

Into the Woods Vocal ScoreInto the Woods (Vocal Score) from Amazon.com - Stephen Sondheim

 

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