Into the Woods

Into the Woods is an award-winning musical featuring a score by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. It debuted in San Francisco in 1986, and premiered on Broadway in 1987. Bernadette Peters' performance as the Witch, and Joanna Gleason's portrayal of the Baker's Wife, brought acclaim to the production during its original Broadway run.

Inspired by Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment, the musical intertwines a collection of uncensored versions of 18th century Brothers Grimm Fairy tales. An original story involving a Baker and his Wife's quest to begin a family ties together the stories of Little Red Ridinghood, Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella.

Act I opens with a wish, a witch, and a curse. Each separate tale intertwines throughout the story, each depending on a weakness or strength of another. The play's conflicts are motivated by selfish wishes, made for the betterment of individual characters.

Act II explores what happens after "happily ever after," when these wishes have come true. The land is ravaged by a giant, whose husband was killed when Jack chopped down the beanstalk. The show explores the consequences of actions taken in the first act, and the need for community in order to survive "the Woods".

Notable songs in the musical include "Into the Woods", "Hello, Little Girl", "Giants in the Sky", "Agony", "Moments in the Woods", "No More", "No One Is Alone", and "Children Will Listen".

The musical makes heavy use of syncopated speech. In many instances, the characters' lines are delivered with a fixed beat that follows natural speech rhythms, but is also purposefully composed in eighth, sixteenth, and quarter note rhythms as part of a spoken song. Like many Sondheim/Lapine productions, the songs contain thought-process narrative, where characters converse or think aloud. See Lyric Examples for detail.


Plot summary

Act I
In Act I, the major characters are introduced by the Narrator, along with their respective wishes. Cinderella wishes to attend the King's festival, Jack wishes for his pet cow, Milky-White, to give milk, and the Baker and his Wife wish for a child. Cinderella's Stepsisters mock her desire to attend the ball, and Jack's Mother insists that Jack must sell his beloved cow. The Baker and his Wife are visited by Little Red Ridinghood, who purchases bread to bring to her Granny in the woods. Shortly after, the Witch from next door appears, and informs the Baker and his Wife that she has cursed his lineage with infertility in retaliation for the Baker's father having stolen "greens" from her garden many years ago. The Witch reveals that the Baker's father was fetching greens to satisfy his pregnant wife's cravings. The Witch punished the Baker's parents by claiming the child for her own, a girl who is later revealed to be Rapunzel. The Baker's father also stole magic beans from the Witch's garden, and it is for this crime that she cursed his lineage. The Witch grants them a way to reverse their barren fate, sending them into the forest to fetch four ingredients for a certain potion: "The cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold". They spend the rest of Act I on a quest to locate these items.

Meanwhile, Cinderella and Rapunzel are each pursued by a Prince; a Mysterious Man roams the woods, harassing Jack and the Baker; and Little Red Ridinghood encounters a seemingly-friendly Wolf on the path to Granny's. The Wolf persuades Little Red Ridinghood to tarry on her way, and he races ahead to her Granny's house. The Baker and his Wife encounter Jack, and persuade him to trade his cow in exchange for the magic beans stolen from the Witch. The Baker also encounters Little Red Ridinghood, and after she refuses to give him her cape, he attempts to steal it, but is rebuffed by her loud tantrum. Little Red Ridinghood reaches her destination to find her Granny has been replaced and devoured by the Wolf, who then eats her. Fortunately, the Baker is at hand, and kills the wolf, freeing Little Red Ridinghood and her Granny. In exchange for rescuing her, Little Red Ridinghood gives the Baker her red cloak. Jack's Mother throws away the magic beans, which grow into a large beanstalk. Jack then climbs the beanstalk, retrieving many riches from the home of the Giants. Eventually he cuts down the beanstalk, felling the Giant. The Baker's Wife encounters Cinderella, who is attempting to escape from the Prince. She notices Cinderella's golden slippers, eventually persuading Cinderella to part with them. She also encounters Rapunzel's Prince visiting her tower, and by observing him, learns the secret of retrieving Rapunzel's corn-yellow hair. After escaping with a section of the hair, she reunites with her husband, and with some difficulty the potion is created, the spell is lifted. The Mysterious Man is revealed to be the Baker's father, who then dies, and the Witch regains the youth and beauty that she lost on the night that the beans were stolen from her, but at the cost of losing her powers. Cinderella and Rapunzel eventually get their Princes, Jack gets his cow back, and the Act ends with everyone elated at the granting of their wishes, with the exception of Cinderella's Stepsisters, who have been blinded by birds.

Act II
In Act II, sheer fairy-tale chaos ensues. The wife of the slain Giant is rampaging the land, searching for Jack. She storms through the Baker's village, destroying the Witch's garden. Little Red Ridinghood arrives at the Baker's house shortly thereafter, announcing that her mother was killed when their house was destroyed. The Witch, young and beautiful again, but lacking her former powers, joins with them to search the forest and stop the Giantess. Jack, too, sets off, as he feels responsible for the onset of terror. Cinderella, who has found contentment with the Prince, learns from the birds that something has happened to her mother's grave, and she goes to investigate. All the characters are once again out in the woods, but for a different purpose: this journey is motivated by a desire to repair damage done by the original, selfish wishes. Gradually, each character realizes that wishes made for one's own purpose and benefit quickly turn against expectations.

Lack of unity amongst the characters causes several violent and unexpected deaths. Rapunzel is crushed by the Giant after she runs towards her in hysterics, thinking that the Giant has killed her Prince. Jack's Mother is killed by a blow to the head from the royal Steward, who is attempting to stop her from further angering and antagonizing the Giant. Even the Narrator is pulled into the story and thrown to the Giant. Cinderella's Father, Stepmother, Stepsisters, and the Steward, Little Red Ridinghood, Jack, the Witch, the Baker, and his Wife cluster together for safety. The royal family leaves, claiming to know a far away kingdom to escape to. Meanwhile, the two Princes, who seemingly should be working to save everyone, are instead singing of two new women whom they wish to pursue, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

The survivors consider their options, deciding to split up in order to search for Jack. The Baker's Wife encounters Cinderella's Prince, who seduces her. Shortly after he leaves, she is crushed to death by a falling tree knocked astray by the Giant. All reconvene, quickly discovering their diminishing numbers. A fight ensues, each attempting to place blame on anyone but themselves. Eventually, they decide that the Witch is to blame, for raising the beans that grew the beanstalk to the Giants' world. The Witch, after chastising them for being unable to accept that they are all responsible, disappears in a puff of smoke, leaving them alone as her final curse.

With only Jack, Little Red Ridinghood, Cinderella, the Baker, and his child left alive, they concoct a scheme to slay the Giant, using what they have learned in their journey. Cinderella spreads pitch on the ground to trap the Giant, as the Prince had done to her on the stairs at the ball. Jack waits with the Baker in a tree with a club, as he had done to kill the Giant's husband. Little Red Ridinghood calls attention to herself, sending the Giant toward Jack's supposed hiding place. Cinderella stands by with the Baker's child and calls to her bird friends, who peck out the Giant's eyes, and Jack slays her. In the end, they resolve to make a new life, void of violence and selfishness, but remain haunted by the memories of their loved ones. It seems that everyone has learned that wishes can be dangerous. However, after the very last note, Cinderella steps forward from the ensemble and sings "I Wish!", indicating that humanity may be unable to exist apart from its dreams and wishes.


Into the Woods opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre on November 5, 1987, and played 764 performances. It starred Bernadette Peters, Joanna Gleason, Chip Zien, Kim Crosby, Ben Wright, Danielle Ferland, and Robert Westenberg. The original production won the 1988 Drama Critic's Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical, and the Original Cast Recording won a Grammy Award.

The show was revived on Broadway in 2002 with Vanessa Williams as the Witch, the recorded voice of Judi Dench as the Giant, and other cast members including John McMartin, Stephen DeRosa, Gregg Edelman, and Christopher Sieber. The plot was retooled, with a subplot added involving The Three Little Pigs. Critics were kind to the show, but loyal fans put it down, stressing that the important adult messages of the original production were now undermined with a seeming sense of flippancy. The revival had a 280-performance run.

Lyric Examples


"On the Steps of the Palace" (performed by Cinderella)

"He's a very smart prince/ He's a prince who prepares/ Knowing this time I'd run from him/ He spread pitch on the stairs/ I was caught unawares/ And I thought, 'Well, he cares,/ This is more than just malice/ Better stop and take stock while you're standing here stuck to the steps of the palace.' "

"Moments in the Woods" (performed by the Baker's Wife)

"Oh if life were made of moments,/ Even now and then a bad one,/ But if life were only moments,/ Then you'd never know you'd had one!"

"I Know Things Now" (performed by Little Red Ridinghood)

"And I know things now, many valuable things/ That I hadn't known before/ Do not put your faith in a cape and a hood/ They will not protect you the way that they should/ And take extra care with strangers/ Even flowers have their dangers/ And though scary is exciting, nice is different than good."



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