Into the Woods, by gay composer Stephen Sondheim, takes all your favorite fairytales: the Baker & His Wife, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella and puts them all into one twisted fable. This is not your typical “happily-ever-after” tale. Into the Woods takes the traditional and turns it upside down.
While Sondheim himself was gay he rarely incorporated overtly gay themes into his work. However, Sondheim’s contribution to theater is substantial as described on the “Gay for Today” blog.
At the beginning of the play, the main character Jack, wishes his odd looking cow, Milky-White, could give him milk. He desperately attempts to get milk out of it but then, in a humorous moment, his mother asks him to check his cow “since only a female can give you milk.” His mother later surmises that “children are very queer about their animals.”
The play follows the interrelated antics of the fairytale characters in their quest to obtain several different unusual objects that have the ability to remove a curse. In the process, a cow is reincarnated, Cinderella’s Prince seduces the Baker’s Wife, an angry witch cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and a giant is killed while another seeks revenge on the characters.
The two Princes meet in the woods referring to each other as brother along with a brief masculine touch of their hands. They each discuss their dissatisfaction in their current relationships with Rapunzel and Cinderella and now lust after Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Each Prince stares in different directions as they converse. The two Princes part ways, careful not to look too long into each other’s faces and prance away off into opposite sides of the stage.
While the tempo of the play noticeably slows a bit in the middle of Act II we are treated to the ending theme about when wishes do come true along with surprise appearances by Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. It makes us reflect about the unintended consequences of getting what we wished for. Despite the darker theme of the fairytales, it is still very appropriate and entertaining for children but also has an unexpected appeal for a gay audience too. Certainly Into the Woods is well worth an evening.
Norman Lebrecht of The Lebrecht Weekly described Sondheim’s work as the following:
Sondheim leaves his audience confused and unconsoled. He does not eschew happy endings; instead, he subverts the meaning of happiness so that those who thought they were, are no longer quite so sure.
Into the Woods runs from October 19 to November 10, 2007 at the 5th Avenue Theatre.