Into the Woods is an award-winning musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. It debuted in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre in 1986, and premiered on Broadway in 1987. Bernadette Peters' performance as the Witch, and Joanna Gleason's portrayal of the Baker's Wife, brought acclaim to the production during its original Broadway run. Into the Woods won several Tony Awards, including Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason), in a year dominated by The Phantom of the Opera. The musical has been produced many times, with a 1988 national tour, a 1990 West End production, a 1991 television production, a 1997 tenth anniversary concert, a 2002 Los Angeles production and a 2002 Broadway revival.
Inspired by Bruno Bettelheim's 1976 book, The Uses of Enchantment, the musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and follows them further to explore the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests. The main characters are taken from the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella, tied together by an original story involving a Baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family, and including references to several other well-known tales.
A narrator introduces the major characters: Cinderella, who wishes to attend the King's Festival; Jack, a lonely and impoverished young man who wishes that his beloved cow, Milky-White, would give milk; the Baker and his Wife, who wish they could have a child and Little Red Riding Hood who buys some bread from the Baker to take to her grandmother in the woods. An ugly old Witch visits the Baker and his Wife, revealing that the Baker's father had stolen from the Witch's garden to feed his pregnant wife, taking some of her magic beans. The Witch cursed the family, making them barren, and imprisoned their daughter Rapunzel, the Baker's sister. The Witch explains that the spell may be reversed if the Baker and his Wife can find the four ingredients she needs for a certain potion: a milk-white cow, a blood-red cape, corn-yellow hair and a gold slipper, all within the next three days ("Prologue").
All begin journeys into the woods: Jack's mother sends a reluctant Jack to the market to sell his beloved Milky-White; and Cinderella decides to escape to the festival, first visiting her mother's grave and receiving a beautiful dress and shoes ("Cinderella at the Grave"). Little Red Riding Hood goes to her grandmother's house and is stalked by a hungry wolf along the way ("Hello, Little Girl"). The Baker's Wife helps him con the sad Jack into selling Milky-White ("I Guess This Is Goodbye") for five beans, telling Jack that they're magic. The Baker, feeling guilty about the lie, sends his Wife home with the cow ("Maybe They're Magic"). The Witch has locked Rapunzel, who has hair "as yellow as corn", in a tower to shield her from the outside world ("Our Little World"). When Little Red Riding Hood arrives at her grandmother's house, she is swallowed by the Wolf, who has also feasted on her grandmother. The Baker (who has been following her) slays the Wolf, saving Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, and she rewards him with the red cape ("I Know Things Now"). Jack's mother is angry that he was duped, returning only with the beans, and tosses them aside, not knowing they really are magic and will grow into a beanstalk that will reach the heavens. Cinderella leaves the festival before the "First Midnight."
The Baker's Wife spots Cinderella's pure gold slippers, but she is also taken with Cinderella's Prince ("A Very Nice Prince"). Milky-White runs away, with the Wife in pursuit. Jack, meanwhile, returns from the giant's home with five gold coins, hoping to repurchase Milky-White ("Giants in the Sky"). The Wife confesses that she has lost the cow - a setback. The two Princes sing of their endless longing ("Agony"). The Wife fools Rapunzel into letting down her hair and steals a piece. The Mysterious Man appears and gives Milky-White back to the Baker. The Baker realizes that his Wife has helped considerably, and admits the need to join together in their quest ("It Takes Two").
Jack then arrives with a hen that lays golden eggs and attempts to buy Milky-White, but she has died. The Baker's Wife meets Cinderella again, and almost succeeds in getting one of her shoes. As the second midnight begins, the Witch discovers that the Prince is visiting Rapunzel and begs Rapunzel to return to her ("Stay with Me"). The Witch angrily cuts off Rapunzel's hair and banishes her to a desert, and her Prince is blinded while trying to escape from the Witch. The Mysterious Man gives the Baker money to buy another cow, and Jack, sarcastically convinced by Little Red Riding Hood, who now has her new wolfskin cape and a knife for protection, returns once again to the Giant's home to steal a magical harp.
Cinderella's Prince is giving another festival and spreads pitch on the stairs to try to capture and identify her ("On the Steps of the Palace"). The Baker's Wife arrives and attempts to trade her remaining bean for Cinderella's one remaining slipper; Cinderella throws the bean aside but, needing two shoes, trades shoes with the Wife and flees. The Baker arrives, and they have now met all of the Witch's demands before the end of the third day. Jack's mother reports that a dead Giant has fallen from the beanstalk. As the third midnight approaches, the Witch discovers the cow is not pure white - it has only been covered with flour. However, the Witch revives Milky-White, and the items are fed to her by the Baker and Wife. Jack milks her, and the Witch drinks the magic potion but it does not work because the Witch had touched the hair of Rapunzel they had used in the potion (which explains why she needed the Baker to get the ingredients for her, instead of getting them herself). The Mysterious Man appears and tells the Baker to use the hair-like strands on the husk of corn he had used to compare with one of the step-sister's hair. The new potion works. The curse is reversed, also breaking a spell that had afflicted the Witch, and she becomes youthful and beautiful, although she loses her magical powers.
Cinderella's Prince searches for the maiden whose foot will fit the golden slipper. The step-sisters mutilate their feet trying to cram them into the slipper, but Cinderella appears and becomes the Prince's bride ("Ever After"). The Witch explains that the Mysterious Man is the Baker's father, who abandoned him but the Man dies before the Baker can talk to him. Rapunzel finds her Prince and restores his vision with her tears. Another beanstalk grows from the final bean Cinderella threw away. They all live happily "Ever After."
Once upon a time, later, in the same far-off kingdom, everyone is living happily despite some minor inconveniences: the Baker and his Wife have their precious baby boy, Jack and his mother are rich and well-fed, and Cinderella is living with her Prince in the Palace ("So Happy").
Suddenly, everyone in the Kingdom is knocked over by an enormous crash, and enormous footprints have destroyed the Baker's Home and the Witch's Garden, leaving her only a few beans spared. The Baker and his Wife decide that they must tell the Royal Family, despite the Witch's insistence that the Royal Family can't do anything about it, and safely escort Little Red Riding Hood to her grandmother's house after her mother was killed by the giant. Jack decides that he must slay the Giant (as he knows how from his previous experiences) and Cinderella learns from her bird friends that her mother's grave was disturbed and decides to investigate. While everyone else is drawn back into the woods for various reasons, the two Princes have grown bored with their marriages and now lust after two new princesses: Snow White and Sleeping Beauty ("Agony" Reprise).
The Baker, his Wife, and Little Red get lost in the Woods and find the Witch, and the Royal Family and the Steward, who reveal that the castle was destroyed by the Giant. The Giant then appears, and everyone is shocked: the Giant's a woman! The Giantess is the Widow of the Giant that Jack killed by chopping down the beanstalk, and she wants to kill him in revenge of her husband. To satisfy the widow's thirst for vengeance, everyone offers her the narrator as a sacrifice, until they realize how lost they would be without him. Nevertheless, the Witch throws him into the Giant's arms and he is killed. Jack's mother finds the group and aggressively defends her son, angering the Giant's widow, and Cinderella's Prince's steward clubs Jack's mother to make her be quiet, inadvertently killing her. The widow leaves to search for Jack, and Rapunzel runs underneath her and is trampled, to the horror of the Witch and her Prince.
The Royal Family leaves to hide in a Hidden Kingdom, the Witch decides to sacrifice Jack to the Widow, and the Baker and his Wife decide they must find him first and split up to search. While Cinderella's Prince seduces the Baker's Wife ("Any Moment"), the Baker finds Cinderella and convinces her to join their group for safety. The Baker's Wife realizes her error and decides to return to her happy life with the Baker and their son ("Moments in the Woods") just moments before being accidentally crushed by the angry giant. The Witch finds Jack, who had found the Baker's Wife's body, and wants to give him to the Giant's widow, causing an argument - the characters blame each other for their predicament before they all blame the Witch ("Your Fault"). Disgusted, the Witch throws away the rest of her magic beans on the ground causing her mother's curse to reactivate and make her vanish to parts unknown ("Last Midnight"). The Baker, grieving after his Wife's death, leaves his child with the others. He is then visited by his father's spirit, which convinces him to face his responsibilities ("No More") because the alternative of leaving them behind is worse than his current problems.
The Baker returns to the group and helps them plan to kill the giant, using Cinderella's bird friends to peck out the Giant's eyes at an area smeared with pitch, where Jack and the Baker can finally deliver a fatal blow. Cinderella, after leaving her unfaithful Prince, helps comfort Little Red Riding Hood upon realizing that her grandmother has succumbed to the giant's reign as well, while the Baker explains to Jack his inability to say what is really morally correct ("No One Is Alone").
Everyone helps to slay the Giant's widow, and each of the previously deceased characters returns to describe the lesson they learned. The Baker's Wife returns to give him one final lesson: tell their Child the story of the Woods, and the Baker becomes the Narrator of the tale. All the characters seem satisfied, except for a final "I wish" from Cinderella ("Finale: Children Will Listen").