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In Into the Woods, a witch's curse condemns the Baker and his Wife to a life without children. They embark on a quest to find the four items required to break the spell: 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. Will they succeed? And what happens after 'happily ever after?'
A major misconception about Into the Woods is that the authors were inspired by Bruno Bettelheim's book The Uses of Enchantment. It's worth looking into the sources of this misconception and what Sondheim and Lapine have actually said about how and whether influence Bettelheim's book influenced the creation of the show.
Before Into the Woods started previews on Broadway, there was an article on it in the Sunday New York Times that included this passage
"As he worked on fleshing out the individual characters, Mr. Lapine not only drew on his own knowledge of Freud and Jung (one of his early plays, 'Twelve Dreams,' explored, among other things, the split between the two schools of analytic theory), he also read studies by such authors as the child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, the Jungian theorist Marie-Louise von Franz and folklorists Iona and Peter Opie."
Frank Rich's review of the original Broadway production also mentioned Bettelheim:
"One needn't necessarily have read Bruno Bettelheim's classic Freudian analysis to realize that, in remaking Grimm stories, Mr. Sondheim's lyrics and Mr. Lapine's book tap into the psychological mother lode from which so much of life and literature spring."
When the commercial video of the original Broadway production was first broadcast on PBS (before it was issued commercially), there was a segment at the end in which Sondheim and Lapine were interviewed by Edwin Newman. Lapine himself mentioned Bettelheim briefly in this interview.
"One of the reasons I liked writing it was because as I read the fairy tales as an adult, I could see how you could take the opposite point of view, you could read Bettelheim and find out the great message that they have but you could also read 'Jack and the Beanstalk' and look at Jack as something of a thief, and Cinderella as an imposter."
(This interview seems to have never been included on any of the commercial issues of the video. Perhaps Lapine was sorry he said that and therefore did not want it included.)
Betteleheim was also mentioned in passing in Stephen Banfield's article in the souvenir program for the original London production. In Craig Zadan's Sondheim &. Co., we find this: "Lapine consulted a psychologist and read studies like Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment."
But then we find this. On page 2 of an interview with Edward Seckerson, we find this from Sondheim:
"[W]e took a Jungian approach. You know, this whole thing about how we based it on Bruno Bettelheim is nonsense — it’s nothing to do with Bettelheim. In fact, I don’t know if James read the book, I didn’t."
And when Sondheim was interviewed by James Lipton for the TV series Inside the Actors Studio, Lipton brought up Bettelheim: "There seems to be a philosophical war in that musical between the theories of Bruno Bettelheim and Jung."
Sondheim responded, "It’s interesting you say that. Everybody assumes we were influenced by Bruno Bettelheim. But if there’s any outside influence, it’s Jung. James is interested in Jung—Twelve Dreams is based on a case Jung wrote about. In fact, we spoke to a Jungian analyst about fairy tales."
In a 1988 issue of the Performing Arts Journal, Lapine said this: "The Narrator is what the fairy tale is about. I tried telling the stories without a narrator and it just doesn't work. A story needs a storyteller, and the storyteller is the ultimate figure of authority. Originally we wanted a public figure, not an actor, to play the Narrator: Walter Cronkite, or Tip O'Neill—someone who disseminated information and points of view. Then when we got rid of him you would see that the news was now being reported by the newsmakers, not the news reporter; decisions were being made by the people, not the politicians. Ultimately, we defined our narrator as a kind of intellectual, a Bettelheim figure; I wanted to get rid of Bettelheim!"
So it seems that even though Lapine had read The Uses of Enchantment, he regarded it somewhat negatively.
Sondheim addressed the Bettelheim assumption again in Look, I Made a Hat. On page 58, he wrote, "And, ah, the woods. The all-purpose symbol of the unconscious, the womb, the past, the dark place where we face our trials and emerge wiser or destroyed, a major theme in Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment, which is the book everyone assumes we used as a source, simply because it's the only book on the subject known to a wide public. But Bettelheim's insistent point was that childen would find fairy tales useful in part because the young protagonists' tribulations always resulted in triumph, the happily ever after. What interested James was the little dishonesties that enabled the characters to reach their happy endings. ... James was also skeptical about the possibility of 'happily ever after' in real life and wary of the danger that fairy tales give children false expectations. As his play Twelve Dreams has demonstrated, he was drawn not to Bettelheim's Freudian approach but to Carl Jung's theory that fairy tales are an indication of the collective unconscious, something with which Bettelheim would be unlikely to agree. James and I talked about the fairy tales with a Jungian psychiatrist and discovered that with the exception of 'Jack and the Beanstalk,' which apparently is native only to the British Isles, the tales we were dealing with exist in virtually every culture in the world ... ."See more
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