“Something of Great Constancy”: Shakespeare to Sondheim: Part 2

By Gregory Kable, dramaturg, Into the Woods

The Red Riding Hood/Wolf illustration. By Gustave Dore;1883.

If Sondheim had a partial debt to Hammerstein, he was also consciously challenging himself to emulate the triumphant construction of a Hollywood favorite, The Wizard of Oz,a work whose score he lauded as inextricable from its action. Lapine would bring an equal enthusiasm as well as a sympathy for the writings of psychologist Carl Jung, whose ideas Lapine initially investigated in his acclaimed play Twelve Dreams. If such firm foundations afforded the collaborators a promise of navigating the hazards of musical fantasy, they gained further confidence in the tradition itself, which is defined by its state of constant reinvention. From the initial core stories gathered by Charles Perrault in the 17th century, to the 18thcentury publication of forty volumes of French fairy tales, the 19thcentury collections of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, on through the imaginative literature of E.T.A. Hoffmann, Lewis Carroll, and James M. Barrie, down to our present age of Walt Disney, Jean Cocteau, Angela Carter and J.K. Rowling, the polyphonic nature of the genre warmly welcomes all comers.

The project emerged, too, in another period of social transition, which always inspires a hunger for myth; stories which explore and explain the reasons we all must enter the thickets of the self–daring the dark path, doing battle with ogres and witches, erecting or being locked within lonely towers, seeking dragons and true love’s tokens, watching desire pass into dread and fear into bliss–encountering the magic of absolute freedom and learning the virtues of healthy restraint. These patterns shaping Sondheim and Lapine’s process were also reemerging in public consciousness throughout the musical’s development. Bruno Bettelheim1976 study The Uses of Enchantment popularized both psychoanalytic perspectives on fairy tales and wider respect for the genre as a significant form of children’s literature. From a complementary vantage point, public television’s high-profile series of interviews between journalist Bill Moyers and Jungian mythologist Joseph Campbell, entitled The Power of Myth, were expansive discussions on the place of religion and myth in contemporary culture and respectfully included fairy tales among their subjects. These dominant interpretive schools, a reading of fairy tales as personifications of psychological forces or as timeless archetypes from the collective unconscious, with competing perspectives on their meaning rooted in the individual or the group, both find their way into Sondheim and Lapine. 

To be continued Friday…

Come see Into the Woods and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at PlayMakers November 1 – December 7. For tickets, call 919.962.PLAY (7529) or visit our website.