Thoughts inspired by Into the Woods

The score from Into the Woods has been running through my head for a couple weeks now, and with it, the story or rather interlocking stories. I’m sure it gets some of it’s power from how music seems to effect our emotions directly, some from archetypal stories it uses- or at least that’s where it starts, but the second act is all about what comes after (“ever after”), and is about relationships, the really important ones between parents and children on which all our other relationships are based for the rest of our lives. Fairy Tales are about growing up, and learning about yourself, and Sondheim dived right in. Sadly, having removed the Mysterious Man from the movie, they missed the exploration of the relation of the Baker and his father (allowing them to concentrate on the relationship between the witch and Rapunzel).  But by “mashing up” all the stories, it facilitates- nearly forces- you to compare different ways of handling things. In the stage shows the wolf is played by the prince, which subtlety underscores point of how predatory the princes are. I think we all recognize that, even without casting the double roles. Originally both princes had wolf counterparts- one of whom went after the three pigs, the other after Red Riding Hood (which probably accounts for the eating proclivities of Red Riding Hood- pushing another analogy).Wolves-Red-Ridinghood We get to compare the smothering parenting of the Witch with the laissez faire parenting of Jack’s mother, or Cinderella’s father (also left out of the movie), or worse, the Baker’s father who ran away. For me the climactic scene  of the whole show is the Song “No More” in which the baker’s father reminds him of the consequences of his choice “Running away, let’s do it. … Where did you have in mind? … Trouble is, son, the farther you run, the more you feel un- defined, for what you have left undone, and more what you’ve left behind.” mysteriousman8The baker finally gets it, and can go back and not desert his son in turn.  The final question: “Can’t we just live out our lives with our children and our wives? Til’ that happier day arrives how can we ignore all the witches, all the curses, all the wolves, all the lies, the false hopes, the goodbyes, the reverses, all the wondering what even worse may be in store…” expresses the ultimate fear, especially for parents.  I love that the next line is: “All the children, all the giants, no more.” Children are as scary as giants for parents. Clearly going Into the Woods is going into life, and the witches, wolves and giants are simply symbols of life’s challenges. Even for those in this fairy tale world, the relationship between parents and children is right up there with the issues of “Boom, squish!” Every fairy tale explores important issues, although they are hidden under the story, and probably sink into our subconscious while we’re not looking, but modern people apparently need it shoved in our faces, and they are talked about in the show: Cinderella tries to explain to the baker’s wife how hard it is to choose between staying home where she’s miserable but feels safe, and the opportunity to enter the world of the palace where she knows she doesn’t belong, and (as is rarely pointed out) the prince is attracted to a role she’s playing so clearly this is not the basis for a relationship. How many teenage girls pretend (often on advice) to be different to get the boy they’re crushing on, to find themselves trapped in the role and not happy? Talk about a universal problem! She ends up singing that what she really wants is to know what she wants. You and thehoneypot rest of the world, kid!  (On the other hand, I like that they included the pouring pitch on the stairs. It makes more sense than the perfectly fitting slipper falling off- and getting stuck in pitch balances how they catch the giant later.) Red learns “although scary is exciting, nice is different than good”. Jack discovers both the sense of adventure and the appeal of exploring what he’s ignored all his life. They, as well as Cinderella, express that what they want is to “live in between”. Again, who doesn’t? This wanting it both ways is echoed in the sub-plot of the baker’s wife who starts as a rabid nobility “fan-girl”, but gets educated (disillusioned) and decides to embrace the memory of her dalliance as a means to have both security and excitement. (Cinderella doesn’t have as much problem turning her prince loose since she doesn’t seem to have had as many illusions to start with). I have always found it annoying that having come to this epiphany, she then get’s squished- probably to force the issue for the Baker to have to deal with his “daddy issues”. I prefer a plot where once you’ve figured out how to deal with your problems, they go away. Of course, that doesn’t happen in real life, and that’s what the show is about. Fairy tales are generally about growing up, which is about learning to making your own decisions without your parents (building on the wisdom of your elders).  In both fairy tales and the real world people are more willing to accept wisdom from unfamiliar elders than their parents. A common motif in the tales is that the protagonist makes long journeys from one old wise person to another seeking an answer. Finally they get to one, but clearly they couldn’t have accepted the solution without going through the strenuous journey. They had to stick with it to become “worthy” of the answer. Another great theme this show explores is how many mistakes we make because we think we’re alone, and how remembering that we’re part of a bigger interactive world helps us make decisions. The whole structure is how all the stories are interwoven with each other. Another is the traditional “Be careful what you wish for”. One of the final choruses goes: swhite “Careful the wish you make: wishes are children, careful the path they take, wishes come true, not free.” That’s pretty powerful. Wishes don’t come free. I would like the world to figure that one out, whether they believe in magick or not. Perhaps the difference between magick users and others is that they know that while you may be tapping into potential or stored energy, the energy of magick comes from somewhere and must be paid for or acquired somehow. “Careful the spell yinto the woodsou cast, not just on children. Sometime the spell may last, past what you can see, and turn back on you. Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell. Children will listen.”   The Finale assures us that “Everything you learn there will help when you return there.” Every time we wish for something, we must go “into the woods” to face our fears, to learn something, to meet the unexpected “To mind, to heed, to find, to think, to teach, to join…” Fairy tales still have power. (I’ve just gotten the new translation of the first edition of the Grimm’s Marchen.)  I was worried that Disney would have messed it up, bowdlerized it too much, when they made the movie, but while they did “update” the show, it wasn’t too bad. I was shocked that they left out the “When the ends are right they justify the beans!” line (did they think the audience wouldn’t get it?).  They also left out the reprise of the Princes Agony song which explains how princes are “always in thrall most to anything ‘almost’ or something asleep “, Agonyas well as their yearning for “tasks unachievable, mountains un-scaleable, if it’s conceivable but unavailable,… what unbearable bliss”. princes tumblr_inline_nhqax12K6F1t6yourThese guys are brought up to go for the impossible. “I was brought up to be charming, not sincere.” (We all agree that it must have been horrible to be the governess to these two bozos.)  This song is a somewhat more esthetic version of the “misery dicks” game- my agony is bigger than yours, and has always been one of my favorite parts of the movie. What could possibly show better how shallow they were? I can recommend seeing the movie, but also thinking about it, and going back and reading your fairy tales again. They’re like when you were a kid and swallowed the bite liver with a huge gulp of milk, it gets the wisdom in without tasting it. Fairy tales teach us how to live our lives (be kind, be brave, get help), and this show is a wonderful reminder of that.

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