I love musicals – what’s not to love – dramatic stories told to music, characters breaking into song to express deep thought and emotion. And I love fairy tales – the dark ones, the Disney light ones, the reworked ones (I’ve just watched seasons 1-3 of Once Upon a Time and enjoyed the episode of The Librarians where the fairy tale book was taking over a town), the HEA ones and the ones with ambiguous endings where the hero doesn’t always win. And I love, love, love when they come together.
I was always really disappointed that I never saw the live stage production of Into The Woods. I do like a Sondheim musical – Sweeney Todd is one of my favourites. I saw it when I was at high school and the songs from it have stayed with me ever since. So, when I found out that they’d made a movie of Into The Woods, I immediately knew I had to go.
Today I went to see it with my mum and my son. Apart from being a little long for him (the live production would have had an interval to give the audience a break and come back to the second half refreshed and excited for more – when you see it in the cinema, you don’t have this and for a child, I think it can make the musical a little hard), we all really enjoyed it. It doesn’t have any of the standout songs of Sweeney Todd. ‘Prologue/Into the Woods’ is catchy, as are ‘Children Listen’, ‘Giants in the Sky’ and ‘On the Steps of the Palace’, but none of them really stick in my mind like ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’, ‘Johanna’, ‘Not while I’m around’, ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’, ‘Kiss Me’ and so on from Sweeney Todd. I expect people will shout me down, but when I walked out of Sweeney Todd, the music wouldn’t stop playing in my head where at the moment, I’m having trouble remembering specific tunes from Into The Wood.
However, don’t get me wrong. This lack of a memorable song for me didn’t take away from my enjoyment of it, especially because of the way they played around with the fairy stories and the consequences of the wishes that were made in the opening song. And this is why I think I am really drawn to the reworked fairy tales that are so popular at the moment – because the old stories are taken and turned on their heads so we don’t know what to expect. It makes the old, familiar stories new and exciting, taking them into the rhelm of Happy Never After, which as a romance writer, is something I can learn from.
Romance writers are supposed to always write the Happy Ever After (HEA), or at least the Happy For Now (HFN), but at the same time we have to keep the possibility of Happy Never After (HNA) in our minds – something that will most likely happen for our characters unless we do our jobs and do them well. Watching these reworked fairy tales is a way I’m finding lately that gives me inspiration to do this. I was hoping that Into the Woods would give me some inspiration today – and it definitely did.
I know they changed some of the original script – Rapunzel doesn’t die for instance (although other characters do – I’m not saying who for all those who haven’t seen it), but they do play with consequences and the fact that sometimes what we wish for doesn’t always work out the way we wanted it to – that the grass isn’t always greener. Palace life isn’t actually what Cinderella thought it would be, and marriage to a prince who has been brought up to be charming rather than sincere is certainly not the HEA she dreamed of. I loved Into the Woods because it gave all the characters their Disney HEA, but then twisted that like a Grimm tale and made the characters look beyond the final page of their stories and enter into reality (albeit with a giantess thumping around and a girl talking to and understanding birds!) And that reality was definitely not what anyone wished for or planned for or even thought they could cope with. And yet, in the end, everyone who is alive does cope and they go on – to hopefully new stories. Their simple wish at the start has been transformed into something with much deeper meaning and the two dimensionality of their lives has changed so that they are fully realised characters with more than one simple wish. They learned about the world, about themselves and their place in it and become happier within themselves as a result – which allows them to open themselves to a new, truer story.
As a writer, this is the golden egg/golden goose/golden harp triumvirate – the Goals, Motivation, Conflict resolution that brings about the only ending there could possibly be for those characters. Into The Woods is bittersweet at the end, because it does not end happily for all, but happiness is in their future and that in itself is more satisfying than the original story endings would have been. And as a writer, I can take inspiration from this to bring to my writing and make sure I am being as true to my stories and characters as possible because I am thinking about consequences and taking the story (in my head at least) beyond the HEA/HFN and thinking about the possibility of the HNA.