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Play Analysis: Into The Woods

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Ernest Manzon

on 22 February 2013

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Transcript of Play Analysis: Into The Woods

Directed by James Lapine
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim Brief Summary of the Story: Critical Response Cont'd Technical Performance Direction Key Moment 2: Key Moment 3: Key Moment 1: Facts about Stephen Sondheim Immediate Impression Performance date: November 5, 1987
Venue: Martin Beck Theatre
Style: Musical
Proscenium Stage
Opens with three cottages each with a different character(s)
First cottage is Cinderella
Second cottage is Jack and his mother
Third cottage is the baker and his wife
for most of Act 1 the story returns to the cottages
set in the woods
trees are bare
most of the time the woods are dark never a glimmer of sunlight
fog adds a mysterious effect to the woods
the stage is lighted with hues of red, blue and purple
Rapunzel's tower occasionally sprouts up from the stage floor
the scrim is used to project Red Riding Hood's grandmother's house

growing up his neighbor was the playwright, lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II who mentored the young Sondheim
studied with the avant-garde composer Milton Babbit, writing a piano concerto and a violin sonata while trying to break into the theater
at age 25 he was hired to write lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's music in the musical "West Side Story"
before "West Side Story" opened, he made his Broadway debut as a composer, with incidental music to N. Richard Nash's play "The Girls of Summer"
won a second lyric assignment for the Broadway musical "Gypsy"
Sondheim made a historic debut as both composer and lyricist with "Company" (1971) which was a look at marriage in New York
his show "Assassins" (1990) was an examination of the motives of the men who murdered the American presidents
taken from my journal The musical opens with three cottages introducing the characters in which the musical will revolve around: Cinderella is featured in the first cottage, Jack is featured in the second cottage and the baker & his wife are featured in the third cottage. This is important to the story because the opening number reveals what they truly wish in life: Jack wishes his cow, Milky white could give milk; Cinderella wishes to attend the King's festival; whereas the baker and his wife wish to have a child. The opening number also introduces other characters such as the witch (Bernadette Peters) who plays a vital role to the story. This is significant because their wishes take them on a journey that will force them to cross each other's paths and at one point work together to achieve a common wish. It is their wishes that proves the saying: "be careful what you wish for" because the happy endings they expect become a twisted and unexpected ending. When act two begins, it opens with Cinderella married to the Prince who is wishing for something more than a life in the palace. This shows that the life she longed for with the Prince was not what she expected it to be. She realizes that it was just a fantasy and now that she is living that "fantasy" she realizes that it was not the life she wanted for herself. It suggests that although she lived a life of misery serving as a maid for her family she would rather clean occasionally like she did before than sit around all day waiting for the Prince to return from his adventures. In my opinion she too wants to go on an adventure, she wants to live a life like the Prince. She married him and expected the life he lived. This proves to be a lesson told to the audience. It suggests that what we may wish may not have a happy ending and what we dream of is not always what is best for us. Like Cinderella we will always want more, but that craving will fade when we find that perfect balance in our lives. Another key moment in the musical is when the witch played by Bernadette Peters brings Jack to the others to sacrifice him to the giant. Cinderella along with the baker, Red Riding Hood and Jack continually blame each other trying to point out who's fault it is for bringing the giant to the kingdom. The witch makes a good point tells them to look inside themselves for who to blame because each one of them including herself have contributed to the giant's bringing. This is key to the musical because this is the first time that the characters seem sentimental and really understanding who they are what their actions have caused. They took advantage of the things they had and put not only themselves in danger but the people they loved dearly in danger as well and it is at this moment that the characters decide to work with each other so that they can kill the giant and save what is left of the kingdom so that they can finally have their happy ending; however, a very twisted happy ending. Opening & Ending
The Act One Prologue introduces the wishes of Cinderella, Jack and the Baker & his wife.
It reveals the conflicts they have that they must rid of in order to achieve their goal so that they are living the life they wish for
it can also serve as the "I want number" of the show since the main characters of the show are confessing what they want in life.
The Act Two Finale ends the show with only the Baker, Cinderella, Jack and Red Riding Hood singing about their ever after.
It reveals that although their wishes were granted they ended with an altered life that they never imagined for themselves.
It also shows how twisted life can get but like the four remaining characters, they learned or it is suggested that they learn to adjust to their new life.
"Into The Woods" occasionally had bright lighting in the opening number or when the story would return to the three cottages.
Most of the time the stage was dark and lighted with hues of red, blue and purple because for the most part it was set in the woods.
This could have been done so that the mysteriousness of the woods was consistent and this show wasn't supposed to be a happy one.
Act one had hues of yellow and lighter hues of blue to add a happier tone to the story, but act two had darker colors so that it could contribute to the twisted stories of the characters. Characterization
Bernadette Peters successfully plays a witch by incorporating specific mannerisms to her character. For example before her transformation she is usually slouching and her fingers are arched like a dead tree to portray the creepy witch. Her character voice before her transformation has a shaky yet older tone to it whereas her voice after the transformation sounds like a witch without the ailments of a woman of old age. She sounds younger and more authoritative.
The elements worked well in this great masterpiece. Sondheim's score plus the spectacle and characterization created a show that had levels and depth. The story was enhanced by the characterization of the actors. The actors were enhanced by the costumes. The costumes and the set created a spectacle. It had tricks such as quick costume changes, a levitating witch and a giant's head. This was a show that pulled focus at the right time when it was necessary and there wasn't a noticeable flaw. Everything went well together. http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&docid=AX7Es59TZeQ-eM&tbnid=6-4MLDIHfEmojM:&ved=0CAQQjB0&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.telegraph.co.uk%2Fculture%2Fmusic%2F8022755%2FStill-cutting-it-at-80-Stephen-Sondheim-interview.html&ei=0eAmUbnNF8H3igLK3oGoBg&bvm=bv.42768644,d.cGE&psig=AFQjCNGw6U4ymbf5rUeV1jsUQwCbVPF6LA&ust=1361588311202125 http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/son0bio-1 http://ibdb.com/mobile/production.php?id=4486 Concept/Idea
The concept/idea of the musical in act one was to tell the traditional fairy tale of the characters such as Cinderella and Red Riding Hood.
Sondheim gave what the audiences wanted in act one: it was happier and more of the songs were about what they wanted in life.
In the second act, Sondheim told a twisted story of these characters.
The story of their ever after and still wishing for something more in life was the basis of the second act.
Sondheim through the characters suggested the risks in life.
The wolf was depicted as the stranger who could possibly rape, kidnap or murder you that you should never converse with alone.
Red Riding Hood was the stubborn little girl who was daring.
The Baker and his wife were the sterile couple who would try anything to have a child.
Cinderella was the social climbing lady who wanted more than a life as a maid to her own family, but also the typical girl who longed for her Prince Charming.
Bernadette Peters as the witch lived up to the stereotypical witch. She had specific mannerisms like slouching and a distinct witch laugh that made her as the witch a great casting choice.
Kim Crosby as Cinderella was a great casting choice as well, she was able to portray a poor Cinderella who longed for this life in the palace and she was able to show signs of vulnerability and signs of hope when it was needed.
Tom Aldrege was able to tell a story of a dark fantasy with his "Once Upon A Time..." voice that you hear in most Disney movies.
And the Princes played by Robert Westenberg & Chuck Wagner conveyed two arrogant and cocky princes who longed for the perfect wife and loved adventure.
Overall the casting of the show was done great; the actors really fit into their roles and made great acting choices to convey to the audience what their character was really about. Costumes
The wolf's costume includes an exposed penis to indicate that his character is after Red Riding Hood not to just rob her of her life but also her innocence. The Baker's wife and Cinderella's costumes shows how the clothing of the social classes differentiate. The peasants wear more solid colors that don't shine when the light hits them and wear clothes that look heavy and layered where as the royal court where lavish clothing that have draping and sparkle. The Witch's costume in the first act are rag like and layered with black and lavender so that it is obvious to the audience that she is a villain. Her make-up and costume contribute to the effectiveness of her character and the minute she comes out, you as the audience automatically know that she is the witch. Sound
The music of the show has a distinct sound to it.
The fast paced lyrics in some of the songs have become a signature of Sondheim's.
The music has a darker tone, but the lyrics tell a story longing for something more or trying to cope with a struggle they face in life which works well with the music.
In "Agony", it has a more ballroom sound to it since it's a song about the Princes's wants. It has a royal sound to it for a lack of a better term.
The Prologue has the fast paced lyrics which Sondheim is known for. Use of Expression
Jack's expression suggests that he is living the life he wanted but there is something that he is not content or too pleased with. Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters are obviously poking fun of Cinderella. Their facial expressions are exaggerated so that they are foolishly laughing at Cinderella and in a way making a fool out of themselves. Their expression is exaggerated to the point that the audience from the top tier can see the face they are making. The Baker's wife's expression reveals that she is wooed by the Prince and shows that she too is attracted to him and longs for him. Use of Emotion
The use of emotion is seen more in the songs and through the characters' actions.
Especially in the opening number when Cinderella is fixing her stepsister's hair and is pulling and tugging her hair suggests that she is fed up with the life she is living.
In "Agony" the Princes reveal how miserable they are because no matter how hard they try, they still can't win the hand of the maidens they pursue.
In "Children Will Listen" the Baker reveals how he feels about being a father. He doubts he'll be a good one and feels like he isn't right for it.
Through song, the characters are able to say more than what you can in a monologue. Reviews/Connections: "Bernadette Peters is a delicious Witch and Joanna Gleason a stand-out as the Baker's Wife. Gleason uses her wry delivery, guarded warmth, and underlying sense of restlessness to create a fairy tale character with considerable depth. Ben Wright is a lovably befuddled Jack and Danielle Ferland an amusingly tough Red Riding Hood." -Craig Butler
I agree with Butler. The actors successfully portrayed the characters they played creating a new take to the characters in the classic fairy tales but remained true to the iconic characters.
"Little Red Ridinghood (Sarah Stiles) is now a skater chick with a red crash helmet. Her predator, the Wolf (Ivan Hernandez), suggests a bare-chested, long-tressed lead singer from a heavy-metal band. Jack (Gideon Glick), of beanstalk renown, is a Pee-wee Herman-style nerd, while his mother (Kristine Zbornik) is a fuzzy-slipper-wearing, Shelley Winters-like housewife. And Cinderella (Jessie Mueller) is a bespectacled, frumpy, shut-in type, while her evil Stepmother (Ellen Harvey) and Sisters (Bethany Moore and Jennifer Rias) bring to mind a glam-goth girl group." -Ben Brantley
The latest revival of "Into The Woods" is a more stylized show that is in the perception of a child that has a avant garde take on the musical.
I've experienced characters in the past that call for a more exaggerated style of acting. Also through watching this musical I have learned how to tap into different characters I can use for future shows I partake in. This relates to my experience in "The Little Mermaid" because my character, Flotsam calls for animated facial expressions and a distinct character voice that indicates that I am a villainous eel who's loyalty lies with Ursula. Also I learned about the form of musical theater and have identified the certain musical numbers that follow the form. Sources: Brantley, Ben. "A Witch, a Wish and Fairy Tale Agony." The New York Times on the Web. N.p., 9 Aug. 2012. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. <http://theater.nytimes.com/2012/08/10/theater/reviews/into-the-woods-by-stephen-sondheim-and-james-lapine.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1361513523-9476Zzd/HImPn1Qk2m+NEg>.
Butler, Craig. "Into the Woods." MSN Movies. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2013. <http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie-critic-reviews/into-the-woods.1/>.
"Into the Woods." IBDB Mobile. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2013. <http://ibdb.com/mobile/production.php?id=4486>.
"Stephen Sondheim Biography." -- Academy of Achievement. N.p., 9 Nov. 2010. Web. 22 Feb. 2013. <http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/son0bio-1>. I took screen shots of the show from the filmed stage version of the show on netflix
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