Into the Wondrous 'Woods' Again

On Seeing Stephen Sondheim’s Masterpiece Then and Now

Children May Listen: The Public Theater’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Into the Woods’ features a child as narrator.
joan marcus
Children May Listen: The Public Theater’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Into the Woods’ features a child as narrator.

By Wendy Salinger

Published August 24, 2012, issue of August 31, 2012.

The sky is turning orange behind the black trees of Central Park, just like the set I remember from 25 years ago. I’m inside one of the city’s greatest works of art, the park, waiting to see another: the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.”

I do remember that night in 1987 at the Martin Beck Theatre. I remember where we sat — down front, to the left of the stage. I remember the thrill of waiting to hear Sondheim’s newest notes, his newest words since “Sunday in the Park With George.” In what direction was he going? I felt a little awed, but it was a good kind of awe — alive, not dead. I was sharing Sondheim’s lifetime. I was alive to watch his genius unfold.

Stephen Sondheim
getty images
Stephen Sondheim

Twenty-five years ago I was a newcomer to the city, a transplanted Southerner. I lived in the East Village, where rents were affordable for struggling artists. It was still a scrappy and dangerous neighborhood then — and I was still scrappy, making a living by cobbling together grants and teaching gigs.

Forward copy editor Teri Zucker explains her Stephen Sondheim tattoo.

I’d always loved musical theater, beginning with the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals I knew from the movies of my childhood, up through “West Side Story” and even “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I grew up writing poetry and listening mostly to classical music. My favorite musical instrument was the human voice. I loved best the forms where music and words came together: Schubert’s lieder; the few operas I had been exposed to in North Carolina; “Tosca”; Menotti’s “The Medium,” which I saw on TV, and his astonishing opera “The Consul.”

On a visit to the city in 1973, I saw and loved Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.” (I even waited at the stage door for Hermione Gingold.) When I finally moved here, in 1984, a friend who was a hardcore Sondheim lover took me to see “Sunday in the Park.” I was bowled over. This was what I’d been waiting for all my life — something with the complexities of opera and the accessibility of musical theater. I couldn’t believe my friend knew me well enough to know how much I’d love this.

Three years later, I went with her to the original production of “Into the Woods,” Sondheim and James Lapine’s dark fairy-tale mash-up, in which characters from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Rapunzel,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Cinderella” cross paths with each other and with a childless baker and his wife.



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