Into the Woods continues its legacy and starts 2023 off strong in Winnipeg on the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s Mainstage.


Cast of the 2013 Royal MTC production of Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins. Photo by Bruce Monk


Once upon a time, two artists combined forces and fairy tales to create a modern classic. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, fresh off of their first collaboration, Sunday in the Park with George, set out on a quest to write their own fantasy quest story, a la The Wizard of Oz which served as a point of inspiration for the pair. This set the stage for the creation of their seminal work together, Into the Woods.

James Lapine, who was in charge of penning the script, began his career as a playwright and director in the 1970s and found quick success despite no formal training in theatre. Still a newcomer to the industry, Lapine met Sondheim in 1982. By this time, Sondheim was already well underway to being a titan of Broadway, having created West Side Story, Gypsy and Sweeney Todd, to name a few. He had already netted five Tony Awards but was looking for a new collaborator to offer a fresh voice to his work.

Together, they got to work blending four well-known fairy tales, Cinderella, Jack and the Bean Stalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel into a single story. To bind these existing yarns together, Lapine invented a new story; that of the childless baker and his wife, which also served to represent a modern American couple surrounded by fantastical characters.

Their mission, to have a baby, sets the world in motion with the quest to retrieve a list of items for The Witch: the cow as white as snow, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn and the slipper as pure as gold. Each item needed to complete The Witch’s request coincides with the fairy tales they live alongside and the couple becomes entangled in these stories. What ensues is a fast-paced adventure through the woods, complete with wishes, princes, magic and a campy sense of comedy.

Into the Woods turns the fairy tale trope of “happily ever after” on its head after the wishes of the ensemble cast come true in Act I. Act II has them longing for even more and facing the consequences of their actions they took to make their wishes come true.

When all was sung and done, Into the Woods made its Broadway debut in 1987, after a brief stint in San Francisco. The show closed in 1989 after 765 performances, three Tony Awards for Best Book, Best Score and Best Actress in a Musical. The legacy that Into the Woods built has endured to this day, even being optioned to Disney resulting in the 2014 movie adaptation of the same name, starring the likes of Meryl Streep as The Witch. In 2022, Into the Woods marked its third time on Broadway with a revival directed by Lear deBessonet.

Into the Woods continues its legacy and starts 2023 off strong in Winnipeg on the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s Mainstage. Directed by Royal MTC’s own Artist Director Kelly Thornton, the production hits the stage on January 10 and will run to February 4.

@ 2023 Pegasus Publications Inc.