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Sondheim, Jung And Fairy Tales

Siena College / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Fairy tales speak to us on a primitive level, according to Carl Jung, who interpreted the stories as symbols in the collective unconscious. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine took a deliberately Jungian approach when they created their award-winning musical Into the Woods.

In an interview with James Lipton, Sondheim said, “It’s about moral responsibility—the responsibility you have in getting your wish not to cheat and step on other people’s toes, because it rebounds. The second act is about the consequences of not only the wishes themselves but of the methods by which the characters achieve their wishes, which are not always proper and moral.”

The entwined plots of the various characters are achieved through the simplicity of a single concept—“I wish”—and a central couple, The Baker and his Wife, all of which mirrors the music, which builds simple motifs into complexity, all echoes and variance.

Sondheim said that he had always wanted to do a fairy tale, but when he asked James Lapine to write it, Lapine said one story wasn’t enough material for a musical. They decided to combine the tales, and at one point, Sondheim reported, “We had the Three Little Pigs in there, we had Rumpelstiltskin, we had everybody—everybody was in the woods. But eventually we had to cut it down.”

Into the Woods is on stage at Wilner Auditorium on the WSU campus from April 30th through May 3rd.