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The story of the Show

“Once upon a time…” a child was left alone with his cruel mother. At the age of 10, he met a prince whose father, obviously the king of his realm cared for the child like a son and taught him all he knew. Sometime in the next 20 years, before the king died in 1960, Stephen Sondheim asked his mentor, the king, Oscar Hammerstein II to inscribe a photo. He wrote, “For Stevie, My Friend and Teacher.”

Steven worked hard and studied and wrote for years, so that his first big professional gig, writing the lyrics to West Side Story, was a huge success. Stephen

Into the Woods was Stephen Sondheim’s 13th musical and 2 collaboration with James Lapine, who wrote the book. They both would win Tony’s for this show. They started with the idea they would write their own fairy tale. But there are already so many, so instead, they created a world where fairy tale characters would meet and interact. And where else would they meet and interact but in the woods, where so many stories take place.

If you’ve been with us for the last few weeks, you’ve heard a summary of each musical–and they are pretty straightforward: the love triangle between Jud, Curly, and Laurey; Tevya struggling with his daughters’ decisions of who to marry; Charlie trying to save the factory. There are a few main characters and one main storyline. Into the Woods is truly an ensemble show where each character has its own story and motivation, and interacts with the other characters at different points.

This is the list of characters–everyone has a least a few lines or share a song with another character, except Milky White as she is a cow, and the ones in bold have a song that is exclusively or primarily their own which means it is their own storyline and growth. Most of the characters are introduced in the 12-minute opening song, and it is done successfully, each introduced, each explaining their wishes and desires, and the conflict that will motivate them. Into the Woods is a masterpiece of musical theater.




Cinderella’s Stepmother

Cinderella’s Stepsisters, Florinda, and Lucinda

Cinderella’s Father

Cinderella’s Mother


Jack’s Mother

Milky White, a cow


Baker’s Wife

Little Red Riding Hood




Rapunzel, her adopted daughter

Cinderella’s Prince

Rapunzel’s Prince

Steward, of the royal household

Mysterious Man

Cinderella wants to go to the festival to see how the other half live; her step-family wants to win the prince; Jack’s mother needs Jack to sell Milky White because the cow is no longer useful and they need to eat; Jack wants to keep his best friend, the cow; the Baker and his wife wish to remove the curse on their house so they can have a child; Little Red is on her way to her grandmother’s house; Wolf wants dinner; the Witch needs a curse lifted to be beautiful again; Rapunzel wants to see the world beyond her tower; the princes want what they can’t have; and the Mysterious Man wants heal old wounds. They cross paths in the woods, they are faced with temptations, isolation, their place in the world, and dangers.

At the end of Act 1 the fairy tales are complete: Cinderella was caught by the prince and will marry him and her evil step family have reaped the consequences of their cruelty; Jack made it up the beanstalk and back with wealth AND he got Milky White back; the Mysterious Man saw the curse lifted from his household; the Baker and his wife have a baby and the witch who had cursed their household was beautiful but had no powers; Little Red had a new cloak made of Wolf hide; Rapunzel was reunited her prince. They all live happily Ever After.

Then Act 2 begins.

If Act 1 is the Fairy Tale, Act 2 is the myth. Act 1 introduces the characters, Act 2 shows the universal truth of the story. At the beginning of Act 2, they are so happy but they still wish… And then a giant walks on their homes and sends them all back into the woods. The danger is real and has large feet. They learn wishes aren’t free, there is loss and grief, and all who remain become new people and form a new family.

It’s a story of parents and children, of growing up, of maturing, of community,  that people are complicated and no one is all good or bad and being nice isn’t everything.

The finally tells us: careful the tale you tell, that is the spell–and you realize you have been under the spell the story, and are changed because of it, that something was revealed in you too when you went Into the Woods.



Sometimes, audience members get to the end of Act 1 of Into the Woods and are surprised there is an Act 2–it seems so well-contained and perfect.

The church’s earliest days, the church in Acts 2, was perfect. It was egalitarian and everyone was cared for and had what they needed and no one had more. This was the perfect image of the church, the kin-dom of God on earth in this small but growing community.

I wonder how long it lasted.

How many were added to their numbers before the bottom just dropped out of utopia?

And we don’t have great expectations for utopic living. Many have tried to form societies that would be perfect in their work or relationships or religion. Few lasted more than a generation. They fizzled, they fought, they revolted, or they ended in tragedy, but end they did.

I get the inclination. It is both my deeply held desire and… my nightmare to live communally, holding all things together. I think raising children and caring for a yard would be so much better with… more adults. I also want to do things my way and am not always great at directions–following or giving.

Last week we talked about how we’re all siblings, beloved children of God, co-heirs to God’s love. But living it out together… Learning how to live and share and grow and want things as individuals who are all one family… well… that is a bit more complicated. That is the day-to-day living, the hard times, the illnesses, the losses, the disappointments, and learning how to move forward in that.

It is easy, or maybe natural, when things become hard, when we are filled with uncertainty and doubt, when we have wandered into the dark woods of our lives to retreat, to turn in, to isolate. I’m not sure what the church believes so I should stay home, I’m not feeling like good company so no one should come over, I’m too much or not enough or embarrassed or ashamed.

But you aren’t alone, you have people how are journeying with you, who have traveled these woods before, who know how to get to the creek, navegate this part of the journey. And maybe they can’t travel with you forever, but their teachings do and now you know, you’re prepared for the next time. You aren’t alone. Your life if wrapped up in the life of others, in their stories, dreams, hopes, sorrows. We hold all these in common.

In Dunn’s poem, he describes how in living and in death, we are so deeply connected that the death of another, even one on the other side of the world, rents our hearts, too. Each of us, and community us, are less for their loss.

I wonder if that is the intimacy of the Acts 2 church–holding so much in common that they were always up in each other’s business.

And I have wondered what it would look like to live the Acts 2 church in this day and age–in a time

During COVID Maren C Tirabassi wrote a poem:

Blessed are the ones who hold so much in common that they will not eat meat with glad and generous hearts if meat packers are forced into work where they will become sick.

Blessed are the ones who day by day by day by day spent time not together but apart and called it loving;

Maybe holding all things in common is looking out for the vulnerable, the marginalized, the weak, those with no one to look out for them.

Maybe holding all things in common is weeping and then protesting the death of children in schools and children in Gaza.

Maybe holding all things in common is being trained in suicide prevention or a mentor for youth. Maybe holding all things in common is buying fair trade–buying a little less and spending a little more.


And I know, if we are holding all things in common with all people of all the world… that can get a little overwhelming. But we can start small. Maybe 30… 60 people who gather regularly and are maybe still getting to know each other.

Let people share things in common with you. Be honest and vulnerable, share the hard thing, know you are not alone. Let us journey together in the woods for a moment, for the day, for years or a lifetime, but hold the journey in common, may we hold each other too.

And let’s do it with intention. You’ll find pledge cards on your table, not for gifts of money, but for commitments of growing and strengthening relationships.