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On INTO THE WOODS
Posted by: GrumpyMorningBoy 11:09 am EDT 07/14/17
In reply to: re: "I want" Sondheim songs - WWriter 09:19 pm EDT 07/13/17

I'd argue that Sondheim actually uses the opening of INTO THE WOODS to ruminate on desire itself, and even breaks the conventions of an "I want" song a bit. Because it's essentially the theme of the entire musical -- to be careful what you wish for -- it would have been awfully 'on the nose' if he'd actually given the protagonists the chance to sing about what they most truly wanted.

Because if they had...

a) The Baker would be singing how he wanted to forgive his father and re-establish loving intimacy with his wife

b) Cinderella would be singing how she wanted for clarity about whether higher status in life is really the key to happiness

c) Little Red would be singing about how she wanted to understand the grownup world

d) The Witch would be singing about how she wanted to be loved and cherished by a child

But, instead, they want a) a child, b) the ball c) food for granny and d) cow / cape / hair / slipper.

Sondheim uses an "I want" song to show us that his characters don't really know what they want. Not yet.

He's not the only theater writer to do so. God knows that Tevye may think that if he were a rich man, all of life's problems would go away, but by the end of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, he realizes what his greatest desires are for his family and his community. This is a common convention. Daisy and Violet in SIDE SHOW say they just want to be like everyone else. By the show's end, they realize that they need each other.

There are countless other examples...

But Sondheim explores those themes brilliantly.

- GMB
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