Many familiar fairy tales have been transformed
into countless ballets, films, and operas. From Sergei Prokofiev's
Cinderella to Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete
to Gioacchino Rossini's La Cenerentola, the magic of fairy
tales have inspired myriad works for the stage and screen.
In the mid-1980's, when a Broadway musical tended to be either
a widely-acclaimed hit or a failure, Stephen Sondheim and James
Lapine were interested in creating a light-hearted, funny musical
that would appeal to the middle groupa musical that would
entertain a wide audience, but would not necessarily be a box-office
smash. Lapine, who had loved fairy tales when growing up, at first
conceived of a musical based on an entirely new fairy tale, but
the notion of combining several already-cherished fairy tales
in one work was rife with possibilities for slapstick humor and
What happens in fairy tales when the characters do not
live "happily ever after"? In Into the Woods,
Sondheim retells Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm's fairy tales
as several familiar charactersand some newshare
the same stage. The adventures of Cinderella, Little Red
Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel are
woven together as they try to overcome obstacles in the
same forest, while a Baker and his Wife attempt to reverse
a family curse that prevents them from having a child.
The resulting musical, Into the Woods,
premiered on Broadway in 1987 and was heralded with three Tony
Awards and nine nominations. In 1988, it was named best musical
by both the Drama Desk and the New York Drama Critics Circle.
However, not all reactions to Into the Woods were favorable.
While many enjoyed the first act of the musical, which is comprised
of a mingling of plots based on several famous fairy tale characters,
including Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little
Red Riding Hood, some had complaints about the second act. At
the end of Act I, after each character has his/her share of misfortune,
all appear to live "happily ever after." Striving to
demonstrate that happy endings are unrealistic, Lapine and Sondheim
thrust the characters into a dark and sinister forest, a shift
in tone that did not sit well with many critics.
Sondheim dismissed criticisms of the second act, maintaining
that audiences do not like to be surprised when watching musicals.
Furthermore, when 18th-century German writers Jacob and Wilhelm
Grimm wrote down the original tales from storytellers, the endings
were much more menacing than the happily-ever-after versions normally
told today. Rather than continuing the tradition of fairy tales
with happy endings, Lapine and Sondheim have kept true to Grimm's
original versions in Into the Woods, exploring some of
the more dark and complex elements of fairy tales, thereby exploring
some of the more dark and complex elements that occur in life.
Sondheim's Into the Woods has been adapted for young performers
in the John F. Kennedy Center Education Department's production
of Into the Woods, Jr. This production will feature a cast
of young performers who have participated in a year-long residency
program in schools in the Washington, DC area.
Find out more about Into the Woods, Jr. on the Kennedy Center
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