Book by James Lapine
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

INFO:

Opened at the Martin Beck Theater   November 5, 1987    765 performances
Original Director: James Lapine
Original Choreographer: Lar Lubovitch
Original Producer: Heidi & Rocco Landesman, JuJamcyn Theaters, others
Original Leads: Witch: Bernadette Peters    Baker’s Wife: Joanna Gleason    Baker: Chip Zien
Cast Size: Male: 7    Female: 9    Ensemble: Varies    Total Cast Size: 11-20, flexible (VERY flexible, to the point where the two princess have doubled as Cinderella’s ugly step sisters! Cinderella’s Grandmother can be doubled with Little Red’s Grandmother. There are 23 roles indicated. You could lose Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, probably. It’s been done with a total of as few as 12.)
Orchestra: 16, but could be done various smaller ways, maybe. I would NOT go piano/bass/drums, it will flatten out music that already is minimalist and repetitive.
Published Script: Theatre Communications Group
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: The original Broadway with Peters is the one to use.
Film: The 1991 American Playhouse version is essentially the Broadway show, starring the incomparable Bernadette Peters.  Well worth a look.  That said, I JUST saw the film with Meryl Streep, December 2014, and it is fantastic!  It vastly clarified the meaning of every song and moment,  the performances are almost all excellent, some are stellar, the orchestrations are improved and more dynaqmic and clearer than the theatrical version -0 in every way an achievement that brings this musical take to life far better, I believe, than any theatrical edition of it.  I cannot recommend it too highly.
Other shows by the authors:  Both: Sunday In The Park With George , Passion   Sondheim: West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Anyone Can Whistle, Follies, CompanyA Little Night MusicSweeney Todd, Pacific Overtures, Merrily We Roll Along, Assassins
Awards: Tony for Best Score (Sondheim), Best Book (Lapine), Best Performance by a Leading Actress In A Musical (Gleason) 2002 Tony – Best Revival of a Musical

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

Colleges, Little Theaters, Dinner Theaters and Stock Companies should be able to do this play effectively. I think it’s musically too rough for most High Schools. Pro companies do it often. Sondheim is often revived. Does not require too large a stage, or much in the way of wings or flies.

Be Warned:

The music is complex, and requires strong voices. You’ll need fair-good musicians in the cast as well as the orchestra.

This show may look like a family show, but it really isn’t for young children. Ages 9 and up should be okay. Purists who like their fairy tales undoctored won’t like this show, and neither (overall) will older audiences, in my opinion, unless a stress is placed on adult life issues in performance.

This show is produced often. You may want to check to see if it’s been done in your neighborhood in the past 2-3 years before selecting it.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE:

A Narrator starts the proceedings with “Once Upon A Time…” We are introduced to Cinderella, who longs for her prince and escape from her life of drudgery; Jack (of beanstalk fame), dreaming of wealth; a baker and his wife who long for a child. Little Red Ridinghood buys sweets from the baker on her way to Grandmother’s house. (“Into The Woods”) The Baker’s parents died long ago in a baking accident (he believes), and he longs for a family. Then the witch from next door shows up, and makes it clear that she’s placed a curse on the Baker, leaving him childless…a revenge for the Baker’s father having stolen from the Witch’s garden. And in payment, she also took a sister the Baker never knew he had. (That would be Rapunzel.) If they want children, she tells them, they must collect four items and give them to her. (“The Witch’s Rap”) Jack’s mom sends him to sell their dry cow for anything he can get, and so, to the woods. Cinderella, freed of drudgery by helping birds, heads for the woods to consult with the spirit of her mother, and perhaps go to the festival. The Baker finds six magic beans in his father’s jacket pocket. He sets off into the woods to find a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold.

Cinderella’s mother magically provides her daughter a dress and slippers. Jack meets a Mysterious Man who suggests he’d be lucky to trade his worthless but beloved cow for beans. Little Red encounters the Wolf. (“Hello, Little Girl”) After speaking to her, Wolf plans to eat Grandma, wait for Red, and eat her. The Baker is confused, trying to recall the four items he’s to collect, when his wife shows up to help. He wants her to go home. But they encounter Jack, and the Wife cleverly convinces Jack that the beans are magical, giving him five of six in trade for his cow. Jack bids Milky White a tearful farewell. (“I Guess This Is Goodbye”) The Baker is angry his wife fibbed about the beans, unaware that “Maybe They’re Magic,” and he sends her home with the cow. The Witch arrives at a tower and has Rapunzel lower her hair, which the Witch climbs (to Rapunzel’s great pain). Neither of them see Rapunzel’s Prince, who has observed this transaction and plans to capture Rapunzel for himself. The Baker encounters Little Red, and tries to take her red cloak, but she resists and he feels embarrassed. Arriving at Grandmother’s, Wolf eats Red. But the Baker (rather than a huntsman) kills the Wold when he sees the red cloak in his mouth, and saves Red and Grandma. He now has the cloak as red as blood, and Red has learned a lesson. (“I Know Things Now”) Jack’s Mother is furious he traded Milky White for five beans, and she throws them to the ground. Baker’s Wife and Cinderella encounter each other as Cinderella runs away from her Prince and his emissaries. Baker’s Wife can’t understand why someone should do that. (“A Very Nice Prince”) Then she sees Cinderella’s shoe and tries to take one as Milky White escapes from her, and as a beanstalk climbs into the sky.

Jack has discovered what is at the top of the beanstalk. (“Giants In The Sky”) He’s gone up, stolen gold, and returned, and wants to buy back Milky White from the Baker…who wants the gold but needs the cow. Baker’s Wife shows up, and tells her husband the cow escaped. They fight, and the Witch, ever near, shows up to scream at them to stop fighting and get the cow back. They head back to the woods. The two princes run into each other and share their passionate desire to win Cinderella and Rapunzel, and the exquisite “Agony” of the chase. Baker’s Wife has seen these two princes and marvels, as Jack’s Mom approaches, looking for her son. She departs as Mysterious Man returns the cow to Baker’s Wife. The Witch warns the Mysterious Man to stay out of everything. The Wife sees Rapunzel lower her hair, and pulls out a piece for herself, to fill a requirement. Cinderella and she speak again, and again, Wife tries to get a show to no avail. Cinderella’s Prince sees Cindy run away and questions the Wife, who lies. The Baker encounters his wife in the woods, and is dejected…but she now has three of the four items. He is amazed and realizes they will need to work together to succeed. (“It Takes Two”) Jack runs in chasing the hen that lays the golden egg. He offers money for his cow, and demands it back. It is then that they all discover the old cow is dead.

The Baker sends his wife to fins another white cow. The Witch confronts Rapunzel, her affair with her prince unveiled, and the Witch begs the girl to “Stay With Me.” Red shows up with a wolf-skin cape, and threatens Jack when he tries to look at it. Jack shows off his golden egg, and Red says Jack is a liar about giants. He swears to go back up the beanstalk and steal the golden harp as proof. The Witch catches Rapunzel’s Prince climbing her tower, pushes him down and blinds him. Cinderella returns from the festival, wearing one shoe. She is playing very hard to get, but her Prince spread pitch on the stairs and caught one of her shoes. She’s impressed. (“On The Steps Of The Palace”) The Baker’s Wife offers to trade Cinderella her one remaining “magic bean” for Cinderella’s one shoe. Cindy throws the bean away, scoffing. Then, the Prince’s men show up looking for the woman with the other shoe. The Baker’s Wife trades shoes with Cindy so she can run away, and lies to save Cindy. The Baker shows up with a white cow…they have all the items! But just then, a huge sound…and a beanstalk falls disastrously to earth. The Prince enters looking for Cindy as Jack’s Mom enters, crying that there’s a dead giant in her backyard. The Prince, unwilling to take any responsibility, makes his way out. The Witch shows up, and the Baker shows her all four items, but she can see the cow is covered with flour and is not milky white. Annoyed, she suggests they unbury the dead cow and she’ll bring it back to life…she IS a Witch. Jack’s mother finds Jack and complains that he’s stolen too much from the Giants, as the Witch brings his pal, Milky White, to life. At the Witch’s instruction, they feed the cow the other three items, but the Witch discovers that the hair is Rapunzel’s she’s touched it, and it won’t work. The Witch drinks and hurries away, as the Mystery Man admits he’s the Baker’s father…and seemingly dies, having repaired the damage he did. The Witch turns, and has become a beautiful woman.

Milky White is returned to her loving owner, Jack. The Baker and his Wife return home. At Cindy’s place, the Prince shows up with the shoe. The Stepmother cuts off parts of her daughter’s feet to try and squeeze them into the shoe, but is caught. Cindy of course passes the test. Rapunzel, we are told, had twins and raised them alone oi a desert until her blinded Prince stumbled in. Weeping on his eyes, Rapunzel restores the man’s vision and together, they return to the woods. It is then the Witch discovers that, in becoming young and beautiful, she has lost all her powers. Everyone is together, the Baker’s Wife becomes pregnant, and everyone is “So Happy,” they do not notice a giant beanstalk growing nearby…

ACT TWO:

It’s Once Upon A Time, again, a bit later than the end of Act I. And though they were all so happy, they still hunger for more. Cinderella wants to sponsor a festival, and is bored. Jack misses the Giants. The Baker feels the house needs to be bigger to take care of his newborn baby. They’re happy, but unsatisfied. The Baker is uncomfortable with the baby. Then something like an earthquake strikes, The houses are all damaged or destroyed. The Witch rushes into the Baker’s house and they argue over what is happening, deciding on a Giant. The Witch lets them know that since Giants are smart, that’s bad news. The Baker heads for the palace, seeking aid in killing the Giant. But first he stops at Jacks, suspiciously. Jack’s mother insists that no one helped her when a Giant died in her yard, she will not allow Jack to help others now. He heads out to find a Giant anyway. The Baker, at the palace, confronts Cinderella, as the Prince is not in. She promises to take up the issue with the Prince when he arrives. Little Red asks the Baker’s Wife what happened to their house. She’s on her way to move in with Granny, as her own house mysteriously was destroyed and her mother killed. (She is the ultimate pragmatist and just moves on.) Cindy’s bird friends inform her that her Mother’s grave has been destroyed, as well, and she heads into the woods to investigate. Cindy, Jack, Baker, his Wife, and Red head “Into The Woods” (reprise).

In the woods, the Witch encounters Rapunzel, who seems to have gone mad and hates the Witch for how she raised her. She runs off, followed by her Prince, who says that she’s “a changed woman” now that they are married, a hysteric. The two Princes meet up, both dissatisfied with married life, and each having found a new princess (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty) to save. (“Agony” reprise) The Baker and his Wife accompany Red, but she can’t find Granny’s house – it’s gone. Cindy’s family enters, fleeing. The castle is beset by a giant. Enter the Witch, the only one who seems to understand what may be about to happen. And they are approached by (an unseen) Giant, a woman, who wants Jack delivered to her since he killed her husband. She will destroy them all if they don’t giver her Jack. She’s nearsighted, so the characters try to palm each other off on her as Jack, but she is not fooled. The Witch feeds the Giantess the Narrator (to his horror), but she rejects him, throwing him miles away, never again to be seen. Jack’s Mother begs for her son’s life, and the Steward from the palace kills her. They send the Giant to crush a tower, claiming Jack is there. The Witch sings a “Lament,” complaining that this is the sort of behavior that she meant to protect Rapunzel from. Cindy’s Stepmom, Sad and Sisters flee the Kingdom, claiming some people aren’t cut out to battle Giants. Red is upset that three people have died. The Witch points out that Red has no problem killing wolves. The Baker and his Wife head in separate directions to try to find Jack and save him. She discovers Cinderella’s Prince…who finds himself attracted to this commoner. (“Any Moment”) It seems that, indeed, anything can happen in the Woods. They have a very brief fling, he departs heroically. But her dream has come true (“Moments In The Woods”,) and then the Giant squishes her to death.

The Baker worries where his wife is, as Cinderella cares for the baby. The Witch enters, having found Jack, and informs the Baker his Wife has died. (A moment I think the Baker needs to feel keenly, and which is underwritten.) Everyone there blames everyone else for what is happening, that it’s “Your Fault.” The Witch insists they give the Giantess Jack, or it’s going to be everyone’s “Last Midnight.” They each of them express some regrets for things they did to bring on this disaster. The Baker longs for a normal life, and “No More” drama or adventure. He almost gives up his child and runs away, but he returns. They all make a plan to kill the Giantess. Cindy confronts her Prince, and he admits he’s found a new love. (He says “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”) They bid farewell to each other. Red feels alone, now, but Cinderella lets her know that they’re all a team,and “No One Is Alone.” They do kill the Giant, and Jack can’t wait to brag to his mother. He’s told she has died, as well. They agree as a group to support each other in various ways, Cinderella will raise the child with the Baker. Even the dead return to agree that no one is alone, and that the things we tell our children (such as these stories) will change them and the future. (“Children Will Listen”) They declare a happy ending, but it is bittersweet as Cinderella says “I wish…”, and the lights drop.

THE SONGS:

“Into The Woods”; “The Witch’s Rap”; “Hello, Little Girl”; “I Guess This Is Goodbye”; “Maybe They’re Magic”; “I Know Things Now”; “A Very Nice Prince”; “Giants In The Sky”; “Agony”; “It Takes Two”; “Stay With Me”; “On The Steps Of The Palace”; “So Happy”;”Agony (reprise)”; “Lament”;”Any Moment”; “Moments In The Woods”;”Your Fault”; “Last Midnight”; “No More”; “No One Is Alone”; “Children Will Listen”

Hits include: “Children Will Listen”

MY OPINIONS:

As always, feel free to ignore my opinions and rating.  Even though those woods are a pretty dark place to venture into alone…

Into The Woods is a fascinating study, if one is interested in Musicals. I personally find it a problematic show with limited rewards for an audience and for the company producing it. But many others disagree. It is some people’s favorite show. I’m not sure why they feel that way.

I feel that Into The Woods attempts to do many things that, say, The Fantasticks does far easier and better. Both are mid-sized-small shows, though Into The Woods seems to want to be a bigger show. Both shows play with myth, and turn it on it’s head. Into The Woods does this with fairy tale characters, Fantasticks does it with love story prototypes. Both Musicals have a second act intended to comment on its first act, and written almost as an afterthought (historically more or less the case for both shows). Both shows offer a moral, or in the case of Into The Woods, many morals. (I personally feel that it offers far too many morals.) Both Musicals use a great deal of music to tell their tale. Each show takes place on a single, unit set. Both shows make a strength out of the fact that they are a piece of theater, with no effort toward “realism.” Both shows had long runs, though in that department The Fantasticks is easily champ. Both are done often now, all over the world.

But (my opinion…) where The Fantasticks is effortless and emotionally rewarding, Into The Woods is overly complex and cold. Where the Fantasticks offers absolutely beautiful songs, particularly love songs, Into The Woods has a clunky, overly-rhythmic, fitfully propelled, modular construction that doesn’t really present enough segments that could be considered “song.” Where the Fantasticks ends on a positive if wistful note, lovers and friends reunited and wiser than when they first began, Into The Woods ends on a bitchy, sour note after many of it’s characters have died. The survivors “celebrate” getting out of the woods into a “happy ending”, as Cinderella has the last contradictory words: “I wish…” No happy endings here.

27 years or so passed between the authoring of these two shows, The Fantasticks having been born at the beginning of the 60′s. And in these two shows, so alike in certain ways and so unalike in others, we can trace changes that have come over not just the theater, but the culture it participates in. Those changes are neither promising nor pretty. By the time we arrive at Into The Woods, Sondheim, perhaps the most brilliant of all Musical Theater practitioners, is here deconstructing everything about the Musical. Even songs aren’t always songs anymore. They are frequently large musical pieces intended to replace song, built of smaller modules of melody and lyrics that each do service within numerous musical sequences and so act as connective motif-like phrases. In other words (my opinion), with Into The Woods, a lot of the “music” has passed from the “Musical.”

Don’t get me wrong, there is no lyricist more capable or cleverer than Stephen Sondheim, and few composers of anything near his quality. He is brilliant. But he is a devoted minimalist, and this show reeks of that love affair. That’s fine, perhaps, for the concert hall, but not particularly for the theater. Musicals, by their very nature, are over the top. They are not “minimal,” nor do they easily support a minimalist mentality. The Fantasticks is a “small” show in size. But it is not “minimalist,” its heart and soul are enormous. Into The Woods is a larger physical show than Fantasticks, but what soul it possesses has been squeezed into a small, distorted book of confused fairy tales and far too many quatrains intended to instruct. Perhaps this could have made an interesting black comedy, but a Musical? And with all that preaching in the lyrics? I like Musicals, they are my favorite thing pretty much…but I don’t go to them for lectures.

There’s more. The first act of Into The Woods is entertaining. It has some clever numbers. “Agony” is quite funny, for instance. The first act establishes many characters in a cartoonish, flash-bang-pop manner, and then sets to work deepening them just enough…just barely enough…that it earns the right to ask for our attention and perhaps our emotional commitment. (That’s a personal thing. It did not win mine.) But then, in the end, Into The Woods sort of says that all people are losers. And really, who wants to spend an evening in the theater and then go home pretty sure that you’ve just been told your life is pointless? Not me. I don’t think Act II of Into The Woods is very stage-worthy. What’s more, I do not find the concept of the entire piece particularly original. People have been rewriting and messing around with fairy tales for centuries, and often to make some sort of contemporary or personal statement. And it has been done far better than it is done here.

If you haven’t guessed, I’m not a fan of this show. So why give it a star? Well, first, because it is Stephen Sondheim’s work. Few writers in the history of Musical Theater are more influential. This was one of his most financially successful shows. Audiences generally seem to appreciate the show, though I can’t say I’ve ever seen an audience moved by it. They do laugh, and many have a good time. They are amused and impressed. And the show is ambitious. Most Musicals settle for what’s relatively easy. They work to get their stock stories straight, their characters ironed out and neat, their songs in line with the action. In other words, the horizon set by most writers constructing Musicals is low. With Sondheim, that is never the case. He endlessly looks for ways to expand the vocabulary of the Musical. Into The Woods is an interesting attempt to do it again. Also, this show is not terribly expensive or hard to produce, and it’s easy to promote as it has many fans, and it’s about fairy tales, another easy sell. It is NOT, however, a children’s show.

If I had the opportunity to direct or produce a Sondheim show, it would be Pacific Overtures, A Little Night Music, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, possibly Merrily We Roll Along or Sweeney Todd. I like his first collaboration with Lapine, “Sunday In The Park With George” far more than I like this one, and I don’t totally love that one. That’s me. I think when Sondheim stopped working with Hal Prince, his work changed in ways I find distasteful. It became preachy and less structured. A theater’s stage isn’t a pulpit, and structure in theater is necessary for an audience that has not had the benefit of weeks of studying that particular show. Way it is.

Lots of people like Into The Woods. You may, too. People like “Les Miserable”, “Phantom of The Opera”,”Oklahoma” and “Cats”, and I dislike all of those shows quite a bit. But a Musical, like all art, is subject to personal taste. We’ll leave it at that.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups.)  (After seeing the 2014 film version, I’m tempted to raise its rating.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:
Very. Sondheim never writes anything that is simple. His scores are hard to play. You’ll need a particularly fine pianist for rehearsals. His songs are hard to learn, and contain not just odd intervals (which I personally love), but unexpected structure and harmonics. The more actors you have who are also decent musicians, the better off you’re going to be. You’ll probably fine cast albums a help. I would not cast many “non-singers.” Singing is going to be a high priority, if not the highest, in casting. And every person you cast must be good at chewing and spitting out a lyric with great clarity and dexterity. Per Role:

The Baker’s Wife -Mezzo/2nd Soprano with solid G on top. Trained, beautifully controlled voice, strong. Lots of singing.

The Baker – Lyric baritone with solid F and G consistent on top. Must be strong singer, he has a lot to do.

Little Red Riding Hood – A real mezzo belter with big, solid, ringing top notes up to F. Clear and harsh as a bell. Get a trained voice or she’ll burn out in rehearsals.

Cinderella – Clear, clean soprano, youthful and controlled. Strong, trained, lots to sing.

The Witch – Mezzo with solid G on top, belt voice, capable of lyric, beautiful sounds as well. Pretty much needs to be the most versatile voice in your cast, able to run the emotional gamut.

Jack – Lyric baritone with the emphasis on the lyric part. Must have a top G consistently. Lots to sing.

Cinderella’s Prince – Lyric baritone, solid high notes, romantic voice (overly romantic). A fair amount of music.

Wolf – Usually played by the actor who plays Cinderella’s Prince.

Rapunzel’s Prince – Lyric Baritone with strong upper register, heroic.

Cinderella Step Mom – Large range from mezzo into soprano, but does not need a sensational voice, more a character role.

Cinderella’s Mother – Mezzo alto, somewhat operatic.

Jack’s Mother – Mezzo with good top notes, but a character role.

Florinda – 2nd Soprano with a reasonably good C on the bottom.

Lucinda – 2nd Soprano with a reasonably good C on the bottom.

Rapunzel – 2nd Soprano with strong, clear voice, good pitch, good breath control.

Narrator – Baritone who doesn’t do much singing.

Mysterious Man- Baritone, should sing sort of well.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:
There is movement in the show, but no dance to speak of. This is a show that would be best done by a Director who is comfortable with staging musical numbers that must illuminate the characters through action, as well as accent the rhythms in the music. You won’t need to worry about dance in casting anything in this show.

CASTING CONCERNS:

The Baker’s Wife – Late 20s – 30s, convincing as a hard-working, plain commoner, but attractive enough to draw the passion of a prince. Blessed with common sense (unlike anyone else in this play). Must be able to play the comedy in discovering that she’s had a tryst with a prince and that it ended as quickly as it started. Her desire for a child must be real and believable, it drives all the action.

The Baker – His wife’s age, hard-working, not too imaginative or bright and dependent upon his wife’s common sense and ability to make decisions. Not a man looking for complexity in his life, so when he finds it, he is easily overwhelmed. Capable of small, mean acts to enforce simplicity onto his life, which he later somewhat regrets…usually if they generate more problems.

Cinderella – Early 20s, beautiful, ingenue and princess like. A girl with a dream who doesn’t truly know what she wants. Blessed in strange ways that she takes for granted and which mark her as a somewhat oblivious fairy tale character, such as her ability to talk to birds. Willing to work hard, not afraid of getting dirty, but she has faith that the gods that guard fairy tale land will keep her clean, and they usually do since she almost always gets what she wants.

The Witch – Requires an attractive, mature actress, say 40′s-50′s, with a very strong singing voice, and terrific acting chops. Must play comedy very well, and be able to turn on a dime and play personal and believable, credible heartache. Must be able to play edgy, a curmudgeon who destroys others without compunction, largely because she has no faith or hope for humanity. Along with The Baker and his wife, she is the core of the piece.

Jack – In his late teens-20′s, a simpleton. Short sighted, he does not have the ability to look at the consequences of his actions in the long run. Comic actor, able to play attachments to things (like his cow, the golden harp and the golden egg) with real enthusiasm.

Cinderella’s Prince – 20′s, incredibly handsome, tall, virile, extraordinarily and comically self-involved. Carries himself always like royalty, and presumes that his every thought, feeling and action is significant, not just to himself, but to the world at large.

Wolf – Often doubles by Cinderella’s Prince in a wolf costume. Venal, hungry, sensual, self-involved. The “animal” side on mankind, slayed to make room for our “mature” neurosis.

Rapunzel’s Prince – As self-involved as Cinderella’s prince, in fact, they compete for the honor of most self-involved. A different physical type would be advisable. Perhaps one can be tall and fair, the other tall and dark. They are both fairy tale princes.

Cinderella Step Mom – The “perfect” mother as seen through a haze of memory.

Jack’s Mother – Shrill, none-too-bright (the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree…), beaten down by life, somewhat desperate.

Florinda – Spoiled, self-involved, could be played unattractive or not. One of the famed evil stepsisters.

Lucinda – See Florinda.

Rapunzel – In her early 20′s, capable of playing out-of-her-mind fear and anger.

Narrator – The “story-teller”. Usually a mature and distinguished man with a mellifluous voice and a charming manner.

Steward – A functionary, afraid for his job and his life, he follows orders and does not think much.

Giant – Never seen, just an amplified mature female voice.

Snow White (optional)- Just get the look right, she doesn’t do anything.

Sleeping Beauty (optional) – Same as Snow White.

SETS:
Think Mother Goose Land, sort of on the wrong side of the tracks. It’s always done with a unit set. You do need Jack’s house, a house for Cinderella and family, and a house for the Baker and his Wife. This three set unit design is similar to another Sondheim show, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. I saw a college production that had the three houses fronted like a book, each one opened at the start of the play. When closed, the fronts were painted to blend in with the rest of the set, the woods of fable and fairy tale, so the whole stage became the woods. This worked very well.

The woods must be a wild and dangerous place, where anything can and will happen. It is, of course, a metaphor for life. Hence, it should seem uncontrolled, filled with dark corners and mysteries, with patches of relative light and relief. Generally, we must believe it possible when anything from a wolf to a prince to a giant appear in the midst of the trees. It is not a literal set, and I suspect the more literal a woods you built the less effective it will be. The impression of a dense and dangerous area is what you’re after. There should be levels, it should not be flat or the physical staging will become boring. Surprising entrances and exits would be helpful. A hill, or something resembling a hill would be good, where you could throw the handsome princess into silhouette as they ride of to find their next princess to save. And don’t skimp on the moss, branches hanging down from the rafters, roots sticking out and reaching toward the audience from the foot of the stage. (That would be a very nice touch, indeed.) You may even want to throw suggestive tree limbs, vines and the like up on the house walls, or use a lighting effect, to imply that the audience, too, lives in the woods.

By the way, these are woods, and productions I’ve seen do not make much of an effort to have them filled with wildlife, at least in sound effects. Birds, crickets at night, frogs, you name it, could all be integrated in the background in appropriate moments to provide the show aural texture it could benefit by.

I saw a set that placed a cave towards the back, which was interesting – but they never used it for anything! Sort of like placing a rifle on a stage, the audience expects it to be used.

It would be cool to actually see the beanstalks grow, and not very hard. Material about 5-6 feet wide, painted like a beanstalk and on wires or ropes so that they could be raised like curtains, would do it.

COSTUMES:
We’re in Mother Goose land. Looking at classic illustrations in Brothers Grimm, or Mother Goose collections like “The Real Mother Goose” (Blanche Fisher Wright) might be good research. Of course, there are many illustrated versions, including a collection by Charles Addams. A look through a number of these would provide a lot of ideas. They are not the same, the approaches sometime wildly differ. Look for one that intrigues you and your director. Similarly, such illustrations might inform your sets and make-up, even your lighting.

The wolf costume, and the witch, will be your biggest issues. But everything will need to “belong” to the Brother’s Grimm universe, or the Mother Goose one, depending on the direction your Director goes. I recently saw a wold costume that was, well, a wolf costume, completely hiding the actor. I did not find this too effective, as the actor’s acting is restricted to movement (restricted by the costume) and voice alone. I think a combination of make-up and costume might work better, depending upon the limits created by doubling an actor in this role and as Cinderella’s Prince. The Witch must pass through a significant transformation, and very quickly, from hideous to (we hope) beautiful. If you leave her in dark, ugly robes, the transition is hampered. But there should be something about the “after” costume that always reminds us that she’s the witch. A slash of red about the throat and running down the lining of her dress, something.

Costuming this show is actually a big job. You’re going to want to start early and coordinate closely with the Director and other designers.

PROPS:
Jack’s cow is either a set piece or a prop, you decide. He must be 3 dimensional, on wheels, with a mouth that opens so you can “feed” him. Jack later has a magic chicken, a golden egg and a golden harp, all easily done. (The chicken should NOT be any more real than the cow.) Magic beans, probably should just be mimed. Birds that descend from the sky at Cinderella’s beckoning, usually paper mache-like birds hung on a mobile-like structure, lowered by wire or what have you. Little Red’s cloak, and then her wolf-skin replacement, probably should be done by costumes. Rapunzel’s long hair will need to be contrived, and part of it must easily pull off. The Baker gives Little Red snacks to take into the woods, which we should not see, only a small basket. The Princess need swords. Cinderella, two “glass” or silver slippers, and a silver gown (costuming perhaps). The witch should at least have a magical staff. This is not a simple show for props. Start early, coordinate with other designers.

LIGHTING:
Very important! Must provide the fairy tale quality in Act One, and the encroaching sense of dark reality in Act Two. Somehow, you’re going to need to isolate the few musical numbers that feel like fully realized musical numbers, and figuratively (or literally) spot light them. I think the audience needs these moments defined and pushed front, they provide some small relief from the minimalist refusal to indulge in song writing which a lot of this score is made of. These numbers include “Giants In The Sky”; “Agony”; “Agony reprise”; “No One Is Alone”, and “Children Will Listen.”

MAKE-UP:
There is at least one big effect you’ll need to create, the change in the witch from hideous to beautiful, and it must be done with fair speed. This probably means her face make-up should be some kind of attachment that can be instantly removed. If her hands are greenish or wart-infested, that will have to come off quickly, too. And removing a long haggish wig to reveal beautiful hair would help.

I would make up the wolf rather than hide the actor in a rubber costume mask of some kind. But this may not be possible if you’re doubling Cinderella’s Prince. See how long you have to make the change. As to other characters, there should be an art motif at work, borrowed from one of the various illustrators in the past who did Mother Goose or Brothers Grimm, and this will be selected by the Director. You’ll want to study these. Are cheeks red, rosy and round, artificial? How are the illustrated characters made up?

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):
Director, Music Director, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Lighting Director, Witch, Baker’s Wife, Baker, the two Princess, Cinderella.

MY THOUGHTS:
Audiences like this show, apparently. You’ll have an easier time selling tickets than with many other shows. It should be fun for your cast to do this show, and a musical challenge. If it were me, I’d do everything I could as a Director to a) edit or lower the harmful and redundant lecture-like rhetoric in the lyrics by staging the songs with some kind of comic or story-based focus; b) keep the show moving. Don’t let the audience stop to consider the proceedings too much, it doesn’t hold up well to that sort of scrutiny; c) avoid any delays like set changes in the show, keep it seamless. If it were me, I’d attempt to develop an atmosphere in the show of mystery and adventure-anything can happen in the dark, edgy woods. I’d work hard to give each new character introduced a grand and fun entrance, like a parade of our favorite fairy tale characters, each given his or her moment. In other words, the proceedings should be fast, fun, and just a bit scary.