The Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical “Into the Woods” premiered on Broadway in 1987. In December, the Disney version opened in movie theaters, and beginning Feb. 6, Seton Catholic Preparatory performs “Into the Woods” for a two-weekend run.
It’s a retelling of four familiar Grimm fairy tales: “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Rapunzel” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Woven into the story is a tale about a childless baker and his wife — and what happens after “happily ever after.” Here are 10 reasons why the themes that run throughout this musical are ones we as Catholics should take to heart:
- THE TITLE: “Into the Woods” is a metaphor for the human experience of going into a place of transformation. In the musical, the characters go into the woods for a variety of reasons: to make a potion, to kill the giant or to find their prince. All are changed by the experience/encounter. Their fears, wishes, true intentions and identities are stripped away, and they are forced to grow up and make hard choices.
Much like a weekend or silent retreat — or Lent or Jesus’ Temptation in the desert for 40 days — this place is new, scary, dangerous and life-changing. When an injured person is in the hospital and their condition is described as, “Well, he is not quite out of the woods,” we all know what that means.
- NO ONE IS ALONE: This title of the closing ballad sums up one of the strongest messages in the show. Just as Jesus assured his disciples that He will always be with them (Matthew 28:20), the characters reassure each other that, no matter what, despite parental mistakes, death and tragedy, we are never truly alone.
- BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES: How far are we willing to go to get what we want? The characters in “Into the Woods” make wishes and then choices to make those wishes come true. Those choices are often immoral choices with painful consequences. Jack steals, the prince and the baker’s wife are unfaithful, and these actions have repercussions that are costly.
- IT TAKES TWO: Sacramental marriage is our model for family life, and the Baker and his wife are an excellent example of a couple who is trying to live out their “sacrament.” They face all kinds of common challenges from infertility to annoying neighbors to petty everyday irritations. And yet they discover that, like all couples, while they argue and disagree and get angry with each other, they love each other and recognize how their love relationship deepens with all the struggles.
‘Into the Woods’
7 p.m. Feb. 6-7 and Feb. 13-14
Seton Catholic Preparatory, 1150 N. Dobson Road in Chandler (map)
5. YOU DECIDE WHAT’S RIGHT /GOOD, THE PRIMACY OF CONSCIENCE: In the Catechism of the Church 1776-’90, we have a rich teaching on conscience. During the climax of the show, Cinderella and the Baker advise the young ones in their care to make decisions for themselves and follow their consciences, always knowing Someone is on their side…
6. IT’S YOUR FAULT: One of the first sins of Adam and Eve is to blame. It’s a human weakness that goes way back. When things go bad or wrong, our first impulse is to point the finger at someone or something that will take away the responsibility from us. Toward the end of the show, the five “survivors” sing a remarkable musical version of the “blame game.”
7. CAREFUL THE THINGS YOU SAY, CHILDREN WILL LISTEN: Every Baptism class, Catholic school and Religious Education class is rooted in the teaching that parents are the primary catechists of their children. While struggling to pass on his legacy to his newborn son, the Baker is told (by the Witch) to be careful in your words and actions because children “may not obey, but children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see and learn. Children will look to you for which way to turn, to learn what to be…”
8. THEY DISAPPEAR, THEY DISAPPOINT, THEY DIE, BUT THEY DON’T: The voices of our beloved dead, (especially the saints) live on in our minds and hearts. The words of our mothers and fathers never leave our consciousness and continue to guide us long after their earthly life is through. SPOILER ALERT: Even though the Baker’s wife, the Mysterious Man and Jack’s Mother die in the second act, their words of wisdom continue on into the finale.
9. TRANSFORMATION: Most of the characters in “Into the Woods” are transformed in the course of the musical. Some are transformed by drinking a magic potion, some are transformed by their experiences in the woods and some by the tragedies that happen to them. Life’s events can form, deform or transform us. In other words, we can be disfigured (by our crosses) or transfigured, (as in the Transfiguration) by them. The key is our response.
10. PEOPLE MAKE MISTAKES, FATHERS, MOTHERS: The parenting skills of the mothers and fathers in “Into the Woods” are quite dysfunctional. Parents, bishops and priests are not perfect. That is why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the end, we do the best we can. We make “terrible mistakes,” we pray, we ask for forgiveness, we forgive ourselves and we move on…into the woods.
— By Tim Smith, music instructor at Seton College Preparatory in Chandler. Tim Smith is a Catholic, a husband, a father, a musician and a juggling accordion player who serves as a music instructor at Seton Catholic Preparatory and as music director at St Mary’s Parish in Chandler.