The fascination began, unnoticed at first, in 1996. Two of the kids, Brinn and Whitney, became cast members of the South Medford (Oregon) High School production of the 1987 Stephen Sondheim musical, Into the Woods. Other than hear a group of traveling BYU students sing one very cool song from the musical (Ever After), and see the show win several Tony awards, South Medford’s annual musical choice was just a broadway show we knew nothing about.
The next step down the path was simply doing what dutiful dads do, get involved in your kid’s lives. With the music/drama teachers reporting the musical as ‘very difficult’ for high school students, with fast/clever/overlapping lyrics (the very definition of Sondheim), it seemed a good idea to listen to the songs and, because of the complexity, that meant several times. Looking back, that was the fateful decision; the musical should come with a warning label, “this show is not responsible for the results of over-exposure to the lyrics and tunes.”
For most people, after watching each performance, the experience would be over, just a pleasant memory. Not so much. For me, it seemed that the exposure was just a start; to really enjoy the musical, one should obtain and read a copy of the script.
By year end, it was clear the obsession was not leaving anytime soon. The 1996 family Christmas letter (copy below) contained twelve quotes from the musical play, one for each month, tailor-made to either a family member, or events of the year. The holiday letter begins with this explanation: ‘Kent has become obsessed with the musical play, Into the Woods, and insists each month of 1996 include a quote. Let’s add one more, “sometimes I fear you’re touched.”
The family did not seem to realize the seriousness of the malady and actually enabled the condition. Marilyn gave a framed copy of an original broadway poster for Christmas. The poster, of course, went to work, and has similarly hung in every work office since.
After that, the obsession remained somewhat dormant. It would reappear when the local newspaper would advertise a performance that became a ‘must see’. And, an eleven hour, one-way drive, to Salt Lake City, to see a touring Broadway performance, was captured in Act 1, Scene 1, “I thought I had been more than reasonable.”
That takes us to Christmas Day, 2014, when Disney introduced the film version of Into the Woods to the world. To avoid a family crisis, the family went the day after Christmas. And again, two days later. It then seemed to me once should re-read the script and see the differences between the play and the movie.
The play begins the same, “once upon a time—in a far off kingdom”, and ends the same, “into the woods, then out of the woods, and happy ever after….I wish.” In between, “despite some minor inconveniences” (Act 2, Scene 1) the movie was a masterpiece. It would have been nice if the closing song of Act 1, Ever After, was in the movie,
“And it came to pass, all that seemed wrong was now right, the kingdoms were filled with joy, and those who deserved to were certain to live a long and happy life. Ever after!”
And, if would have been nice if the song No More were also included in the movie. It contains a wise old age proverb, “How do you ignore….the false hopes, the goodbyes, the reverses. All the wondering what even worse is still in store…No more”
I wonder what birthday present I will get this year?
1996 Christmas Letter