WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the story ranging from unimportant to plot turners.
Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine
Type: Fairy Tale, Fantasy
Basic Plot: A couple that owns a bakery wish that they had a child, but are told by their neighbor, a witch, that they may only have one if they can get her four items by three midnights. The couple then goes into the woods to find the items. They aren’t the only people who want something, though, and as fairy tale characters end up in the woods to fulfill their personal wants, they also end up with a lot of unexpected things they didn’t want.
Plot: 3½/5 Above Average: When I was writing the basic plot of this musical, I was wondering, “Is there even a way for this musical to have a basic plot?” Not to be rude, but when I read a summary of the plot, I thought person who wrote this had their mind in fifty different directions. The plot was an attempt to combine as many fairy tales as possible in a way that made sense. I think it worked out well. The fairy tales were more based off of the originals than the more common modern ones. Cinderella doesn’t have a fairy godmother, but a tree with her mom’s spirit. Rapunzel’s prince is thrown down the tower and blinded when the witch finds out about the two’s friendship. The original fairy tales are more violent and dramatic than the modern ones, so it more interesting but unfortunately less child-friendly.
The first half of the story has all the fairy tale characters trying to achieve their goals. It is a lot like the average family-friendly fairy tale story except that it talks about five or six people’s fairy tales rather than one. The second half has a lot of twist and is not as dark as some modern fairy tale movies, but is still more grown up than Disney’s original Cinderella. The fairy tale characters are now reaping what they had sown from their choices.
Story Organization: 4/5 Very Well Done: The play does feel a longer than it actually is because a lot of things happen in it, but it was done smoothly still since there was so much in it. It was not hard to keep up with the plot, which surprised me a little considering when you read a plot summary it is very jumbled sounding. Things all happened in a good order and time.
Music: 4/5 Very Well Done: There are two types of musicals, one where the musical is almost trivial and like an accessory that makes it more interesting but is not that important, and the one where there is so much music that it is almost an opera. This musical is the latter. It has lots of songs for almost every thing that happens that has to do with the plot. The style is just musical theater. The songs were made to be dramatic, though I think some songs were made to be dramatic to push humor. There was a good mixture of exciting and calmer songs.
Moral: 3½/5 Almost All Good Morals: There are plenty of good morals in this play. I could probably devote an entire article to Into the Woods morals. The main moral of this play had two parts to it. The first part of the moral is to be responsible for what you do, and even if you refuse to acknowledge it, it will catch up with you. Many characters refuse to directly make choices or if they do consider what will come of them. Eventually they start reaping what they sow. While most of the characters refuse to accept responsibility and die for it, four of them choose to change their way of looking at things and their attitude and survive. In the end they conclude to be more careful when they pursued a goal or made a choice. The second moral had to do with children. As well as saying that you should be careful to make good decisions and goals, they also talked about training your child by being a good example. You can make, but your example in what you say and do will reach your children a lot more. The Bible does say in Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
The only moral thing I was not as pleased with was in the song No One Is Alone. Red Riding Hood feels guilty that they are going to kill a giantess and wonders what her mother and grandmother would want her to do. Meanwhile Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk has heard that his mother has been killed and is trying to decide if he should avenge her or not. The people they are with tell them it is time for them to make their own choices and that no matter what they choose someone will always support them. They are told, “You decide what’s good.” I understand there is a time to make our own choices, but I do think it went further than was needed in its message.
Overall: 3½/5 Above Average: The musical was well done and is recommended. There are a lot of surprises and it is funnier and wittier than I expected. I think people twelve and older would understand the play and that either gender would like it.
Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 2/5 Suggestive: The Witch uses “raping” to describe a man stealing from her. The Witch sometimes aims her staff at the Baker right below the belt. Cinderella’s prince convinces the Baker’s Wife to have a one afternoon stand with him. This is usually just done with kissing and the Baker’s Wife not wearing her scarf or coat. Otherwise it is appropriate. Some ladies say the Baker “molested” them when he was trying to see their hair. Rapunzel has children before she marries the prince. Some people find the song Hello Little Girl – the song sung by the wolf that wants to eat Little Red Riding Hood – to be suggestively pedophilic and the song I Know Things Now suggestive in that Little Red Riding Hood is describing this pedophilic experience. The lyrics do make it reasonable to feel a little uncomfortable, but the song is not extremely suggestive as to make the everyday person be get completely disturbed by it.
Violence: 2½/5 Moderate Non-Bloody Violence: A giant dies by falling off a bean stalk, but it is only talked about. The Baker cuts a wolf’s stomach. Red Riding Hood’s Granny talks about killing the wolf and stabs at him. Red Riding stamps on at least one persons foot. Red Riding Hood is really into knives and self defense. It talks about a man hurting his eyes and being blinded. Several people get smacked at times. Almost all the characters die, some of them by being crushed by a giantess. The crushing is usually sound affects, screams, and the stage being blacked out or lighting effects. Cinderella’s stepmother chops off the heel and toe of her daughters to force their feet to fit the slipper. Some birds peck out the stepsister’s eyes at the wedding. A man hits a woman on the head with a staff and she dies from it. A giantess is killed offstage by having her eyes pecked out and two men attacking her.
Swearing and Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain: 1/5 One Light Utterance: A form of damn is misused once.
Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: 2/5 Slightly Disturbing and Emotional: Most of the people die in this play before it ends, some by being crushed and others by starvation. When the wolf is cut open Red Riding Hood and her Granny come out. When the stepsister’s parts of their feet are cut off there is mention of there being blood. In the second half, Rapunzel goes through constant emotional breakdowns. A man does not want to go into a place with thorny bushes because he does not like blood. A boy wants to kill a man after he finds out she was accidentally murdered, but he never does.
Religious Issues: 1/5 Slightly Suggestive: Cinderella’s mother’s spirit is in a tree. That is how she talks to Cinderella and gives her presents. Several people think that an old man in the forest is “a spirit” and even after he officially dies he talks to someone. The Baker’s Wife talks to him after she is dead.
Magic: 3/5 Fairy Tale Magic: There is basic fairy tale magic like spells, magic items, mention of fairy tale creatures, etc.. Though there is a witch, no witchcraft rituals or customs are in the play and nothing satanic. I think the most controversial thing the witch did was bring the cow back to life. The Witch is put in a complicated perspective of being not the good guy, but still having some morals that the other characters lack.
Others: Cinderella’s dad is shown as a drunkard in some versions and though he is never seen drinking, his behavior is that of a drunken person i. e. staggering, slurred speech.
Overall: 2½/5 Almost Child Appropriate: This play is darker than an average Cinderella fairy tale you may read to your child, but is not a completely weird, gory play either. I think the play is appropriate for preteens, but I certainly would not bring an eight year old to a play all but four people die before it ends.
Disclaimer: All plays and musicals are done differently, and the author is not responsible if the play was better than or not as good as the review claims it is as all versions will have different performers, costumes, choreography, etc. If the play or musical did not meet your expectations we apologize in advance.