Without the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales, there would be no Stephen Sondheim musical “Into the Woods.”
Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and his beanstalk, and the baker and his wife will all be there when Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of Sondhein’s show opens Friday.
And, in a case of “be careful what you wish for,” there’s no guarantee they’ll all live happily ever after.
Still, that notion hasn’t kept audiences away from this story since its 1987 premiere in Broadway’s Martin Beck Theatre.
“A lot of people love this musical, but don’t know why,” says director Jason Bayle. “They love the fairy tale aspect of it, but then it becomes a study in human nature. There are just so many layers to it, which makes it great.”
The story is a mash-up of characters and their wishes.
The curtain opens on a forest, where a baker and his wife live and have one wish — to have a baby.
“They are stuck in the daily routine of life,” says Kaitlyn Stockwell, who plays the baker’s wife. “They want a baby, and the wife believes that a baby will end the monotony.”
Meanwhile, Cinderella wishes to attend the king’s festival, while Jack wishes that his cow would give milk and Little Red Riding Hood wishes for bread to bring to her grandmother. And while they’re all wishing, the baker discovers that the witch next door is the source of the couple’s infertility.
She placed a curse on the baker’s family line after catching his father stealing vegetables — including six magic beans — from her garden. She also took his dad’s newborn daughter, Rapunzel, to raise as her own.
The witch tells the baker the curse will be lifted if he and his wife can find the four ingredients — a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold — she needs for a curative potion.
Refusing his wife’s help, the baker, played by Carter Dean, ventures into the woods.
“Really, the baker and his wife spend little time together throughout the play, but each time they meet up, their relationship grows and evolves,” Stockwell says. “It’s interesting to watch their relationship.”
Meanwhile, Jack goes to the market to sell his beloved cow, Milky White; Cinderella sets out for the king’s festival, and Little Red Riding Hood walks to her grandmother’s house.
“Little Red Riding Hood has a huge character change in the play,” says Lauren Smith, who plays the character. “She has to change her mindset from being naive to someone who has no fear. There’s a moment where she grows up, and it’s a challenge for me, because I’m only 15.”
And while Little Red Riding Hood is on her journey, Jack, played by Thomas Jackson, also starts to become an adult.
“The way we see Jack at first is someone who is completely a child,” Jackson says. “But then he’s given responsibility, which leads him to new accomplishments, and that changes him.”
This is not the sanitized Disney version of the Grimm tales. These stories many times venture into the gruesome, such as when Cinderella’s stepmother chops pieces from her daughters’ feet in hopes of fitting them into Cinderella’s glass slipper. Or gold slipper, as it is portrayed in this story.
This happens in “Into the Woods,” presenting an even stronger case for cautious wishes. But how can the baker and his wife’s wish for a child be anything but pure?
“This is my first time directing this musical, and I didn’t have a story connection to it at the time I was asked to direct it,” Bayle says. “But I became a father this year, and I can look at it and ask, ‘What kind of world do we want to create for our children?’ and ‘How do we fight off the giants?’ This play makes you look at fairy tales differently.
“… And it gives us the chance to ask some important questions, one being, ‘What is right or wrong?’ And at the end of this play, you realize that that’s something you have to decide for yourself.”