Isn't it nice to know a lot? Tell me about Into the Woods.
September 24, 2012 7:57 PM   Subscribe

I have become obsessed with Into the Woods. Tell me everything I don't know.

I recently read The Uses of Enchantment specifically for ItW enlightenment, and it really changed the way I thought about the entire enterprise. (Freud!) I am also familiar with the Brothers Grimm versions of the fairy tales depicted in the show. What else might interest me?

Yes, I have watched the OBC version on Netflix, and yes, I saw the show in Central Park this summer. I'm curious about whatever ancillary materials are out there, but my dream would be essays or books of analysis, like "Parental Attachment in Into the Woods" or "Numbers and Symbols: It Takes Two" or something. (I made those up. From my wishes.) Are there famous interpretations of the show? Not stagings, necessarily, but deconstructions. Like if there were a college course designed around a very close reading of the show, what might that course teach you? Who would you read? What would you write?
posted by Charity Garfein to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
You might enjoy reading Sondheim's books of annotated lyrics, Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made A Hat. I can't remember which one ItW is in, but they're both fascinating.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:02 PM on September 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Into the Woods is not in Finishing the Hat, so it must be in the other.
posted by purpleclover at 8:17 PM on September 24, 2012

Inspired by "Ever After": At The Gala. (Caution: contains ponies.)

(And, inspired by "Putting It Together" from Sunday in the Park with George: The Art of the Dress.)
posted by SPrintF at 8:30 PM on September 24, 2012

Best answer: James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim did this hour long piece for MTI for theaters putting on "Into the Woods" for community theaters. It's fascinating to hear about how Lapine approached the characters and Sondheim points out some of the quirks of the music of the show.
posted by inturnaround at 8:47 PM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some trivia of the top of my head (ITW is my favorite):
  • Sondheim and George Lapine had the idea of doing "a fairy-tale" show, but realized the stories didn't quite work to make a full show. Lapine invented the story of the Baker and his wife as a way to tie the fairy tales together.
  • In an earlier version of the show, more characters (the Three Little Pigs especially) were involved. These were later cut out in an out-of-town tryout, but some remnants of them still remain in the script. Same goes for Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, who are mentioned in "Agony II" but that's it.
  • Also in an earlier version, the Narrator is spelled out as being the son of the Baker and his wife, all grown up. This makes the ending of the show (I think) much more cohesive and poignant—the Baker holds his son and gives him the words he would later use to tell the story himself: "Once upon a a far off Kingdom...lived a young maiden...a sad young lad...and a childless baker...with his wife." However it also totally weirds up the moment when they kill the narrator... so I guess I'm not so sad it got cut.
  • From Sondheim On Music: every musical motif in the show is based off the ascending major second that opens it ("I wish!"). All the different themes and tunes incorporate this rising second in some sort of more-or-less noticeable way. "Okay," I hear you saying, "but an ascending step is such a small detail, its hardly a motive worth noticing"... yeah, but he says it's intentional in the book. So we'll go with it. :)
Welcome to the club! There's more to look up and read and enjoy that I'm not remembering right now. I adore Into the Woods and now you too can cattily remark "You want to go to the FESTIVAL?!" every time the word comes up.
posted by Zephyrial at 8:49 PM on September 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

PS: Here's a screencap from "Sondheim On Music" of his scratch page of motifs from ITW (obviously notated more neatly for publication).
posted by Zephyrial at 8:51 PM on September 24, 2012

PPS: Also the 5-note "bean theme" is disguised in many other tunes from the show. Another screencap from "Sondheim on Music" showing how a line from "Children Will Listen" is an inversion of the bean theme. (It's a great book. Just go buy it already.)
posted by Zephyrial at 8:55 PM on September 24, 2012

The best books that have bits about ITW are Sondheim on Music, already mentioned, and the fantastic Sondheim's Broadway Musicals, which offers by far the richest collection of analyses of the musicals. For more anecdotes than I can't remember, I also recommend Secrest's biography.

Since no one has mentioned it yet, it's worth pointing out that the score for the OBC and the revival have a lot of differences, and the revival has a song that isn't in in the OBC. The orchestration is also quite a bit different (and the end of 'Steps of the Palace' in the revival is just goose bump making).

Probably the biggest point of contention in analysis of ITW is if it's about AIDS or not. Sondheim has said that it isn't, at least not as allegorically as some people think it is. But there is a tradition of thinking about ITW as a commentary on the AIDS epidemic of the 80s, with the giant being the looming illness.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:38 PM on September 25, 2012

You can find some decent analyses in:

Art Isn't Easy: The Theater of Stephen Sondheim, by Joanne Gordon
From Assassins to West Side Story by Scott Miller
Sondheim by Martin Gottfried

The first one's probably the closest to what it looks like you're looking for, but they're all worth reading.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:44 PM on September 25, 2012

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