Into the woods and down the dell, The path is straight, I know it well. Into the woods, and who can tell what’s waiting on the journey?
Innocence. As we all (hopefully) know, the path is never straight. NEVER. No matter which way you go, which wish you make or which witch you have to knock outta your way, the path to getting your dreams is NEVER STRAIGHT. It curves. It bends. It drops off a cliff and requires you to reinvent, revise and repeat. And through it all you must be brave, no matter what. I only wish I knew this back in 1998.
Disney’s Into the Woods opens this week. I was lucky enough to catch an advanced screening. (Ok, I emailed my PR buddies from when I worked as an entertainment reporter to BEG and BEG for an advanced screening. Thank you, Mr. Marshall…) Because I needed to see this movie asap. NEEDED.
Why? I was once Cinderella. 20 years old. UCLA. 1998. (Don’t you dare do that math.) Cinderella had huge dreams to go the festival. Cinderella also found out that things don’t always turn out like you’d imagined.
Careful the wish you make…
Playing that role – at the university that I’d dreamed about attending since I was 8 years old, at an age when I couldn’t even legally drink – was one of the most incredible, exhausting, special, confusing, happy, complicated, rewarding and FEARFUL times in my life. (Yes, composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim’s brilliantly-bendy tonalities and tricky rhythms for “Steps of the Palace” had something to do with it. Musical theater buffs everywhere know exactly what I’m talking about and are hopefully nodding.)
I remember when I saw my name listed on the cast announcement posted in Schoenberg Hall (is it still Schoenberg Hall, Bruins?) I was ecstatic and pretty sure I immediately called my mom with ‘OMG-I-really-got-it!’ tears streaming down my face. WISH GRANTED. Little did I know I’d be petrified for the next 6 weeks. How fitting: this was Into the Woods.
The way is clear, the light is good, I have no fear nor no one should. The woods are just trees, the trees are just wood. No need to be afraid there – there’s something in the glade there…
If you don’t already know, musical theater fans have been generally obsessed with Into the Woods since it first opened on Broadway back in 1987… there’s something magical about this modern and twisty story filled with consequences of wishes, parent/child relationships, greed, ambition, loss, unconditional love and the power of the human spirit… while intertwining the stories of our most beloved fairy tale characters. Into the Woods is about losing innocence and gaining wisdom while fighting through fear. There’s A LOT in Into the Woods. It’s *not* a story for kids: It’s sophisticated, complicated and busting with metaphors about pretty much everything we deal with in real life. I’m thrilled to report that Disney’s new interpretation is just as special as the stage show (having a notch in the stage show’s bench, I was a little worried).
Watching the movie, I was taken offguard: I’ve never seen such a direct adaptation of a script from stage to screen. It was unexpectedly incredible in so many ways (some ways personal for me, but still amazing). From start to finish (based on my memory of the script), it was a line-by-line replica of the stage show. Costumes? Beyond stunning. Performances? Pretty damn close to perfect. Emily Blunt’s wit, hope, smartsy-fun (as the Baker’s Wife) were infectious. And let’s just say that Chris Pine (who plays Prince Charming) might just have a new unexpected career in comedy… brace yourselves for his big song “Agony.” (Unbutton ONE MORE button, please… pleeeeease Chris?) Film done right. Anna Kendrick plays Cinderella (and nails the song that scared the $ht outta me in the most delightful way, by the way). I sat back in my chair, chomped popcorn and smiled. (Yes, I cried a little. That’s what happens when you replay 16 year old memories in your head… while surprisingly being able to whisper the lines somehow still engraved in your bones out loud in a dark movie theater.) My memories flooded back.
I started to remember my Cinderella. Who was that girl? At 20 years old, I had no flippin’ clue. (I feel like a was a completely different person than the woman my little girls know now to be ‘Mommy.’ Funny how motherhood makes you grow up.) I remember wanting that Cinderella part so badly… because my ego wanted it. Cinderella was the coveted ingenue lead role and I’d get to wear an amazing dress with sparkly shoes, basically. But once I got it, it wasn’t what I imagined it’d be. It was a *huge* role. It was a deceptively *challenging* role. It tested my confidence and perseverance as a performer and a person. I remember crying in rehearsals because of my never-ending need to get those four bars in that song RIGHT... and for some reason I never got those four bars RIGHT. Even with a sizable cast to lean on for moral support, I felt ALONE. Wait! I’m not sure I’m ready for this! Man did I get SCARED. Scared of my big song, scared I wouldn’t be good enough, scared that our wise leader was thinking he cast the wrong girl (love you, John Hall), scared that the girls who wanted this role and didn’t get it were cursing my luck and wondering why-the-hell I got the part and they didn’t… scared, scared, scared, scared.
Into the woods it’s time to go, It may be all in vain, I know. Into the woods but even so, I have to take the journey.
The fear was just what I needed at 20 years old. I learned my lines, sang my song, wore that fabulous dress and did the best I could. (I think I was pretty good? To this day, my mom says I was fabulous… hehe.) Truth is: I could’ve been better, I could’ve been worse. But I fought through the fear and offered the very best of what I was able to offer at the time. I tried to punch that big role of mine in the face with everything I had every single time. I became proud of my fight. And I grew up a little bit more.
Into the woods to get the thing that makes it worth the journeying. Into the woods to see the King, to sell the cow, to make the potion. To see, to sell, to get, to bring, to make, to lift, to go to the Festival!
[SPOILER ALERT] At the end of Into the Woods, Cinderella pretty much ditches the glitz, the glam, the Prince and turns into Mother Earth. (Who knew? At 20 years old, I remember thinking ‘What’s wrong with this chick?’) Much to her shock and surprise, her fate turned out to be the opposite what she imagined… for the greater good. And she found happiness. She wouldn’t have found her place had she not gone through the rigamarole of desperately wanted something more, making a crazy wish, being chased by a Prince, been trapped into making a choice, been disappointed by what she thought she wanted her life to be, felt scared about where to go next… and then changed by turning brave to help bring down the giant for the greater good. She had to fight through fear.
16 years older and 2 little girls wiser, I’m get it now: Life is about navigating-controlling-overcoming fear and learning from each experience. In just the past few years, I’ve realized that I’ve turned a little bit braver… thanks to my little girls. As moms/women/chicks who had so many dreams and goals (many of them that came true, some that did not), we are always venturing into the woods to figure things out. How to be the kind of parent our kids need? How to keep working towards goals? How to stay true to ourselves? How to keep our marriage fun? How to cook dinner when there’s no time to do it? How to get our kids to stop arguing over who gets to wear the Elsa dress and who gets to wear the Anna dress? How the hell to finish this blogpost without being interrupted to wipe my nose Mommy, spread more butter on my toast Mommy, fix this button Mommy or change my shoes Mommy? (I’ve written about how musical theater’s contributed to my parenting skills.) We’re ALWAYS in the woods, in unchartered territory. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s scary, sometimes it’s not what we thought it’d be in our heads… but the woods get easier knowing we’re all being brave together. (One of the most ‘a-ha’ poignant songs at the very end of Into the Woods – when everyone learns their individual lesson – is “You Are Not Alone.” I dare you not to weep. Maybe you’re tougher than I am.) Motherhood makes you fight through fear, whether you want to or not. Too bad I can’t play Cinderella now… I think I’d sing the $hit outta that song.
Do I know who I am now? I think so (mostly anyways). Do I know what I want now? More than I did 16 years ago. Am I less scared of challenges? Yes. (Some of the side effects from motherhood… and to think I ignorantly-bitched how I “wasn’t ready” when I was first blessed with this journey. The irony.) I only hope my little girls will experience similar challenges along their own paths (something tells me they will). As their mother, I will tell them to welcome the fear, embrace the uncertainty of their actions and to know that they are not alone. Life’s path will curve, bend, twist, dead-end and then fall off a cliff… and no matter what we want, what we think we want, what happens, what scares us, what disappoints us when we’re not sure if we’re ready: We are not alone. Fear makes us think, fight and figure things out. It can be a good thing, if you’re not afraid of it. Something I wish I’d known back in 1998.
Now I understand… and it’s time to leave the woods!
Disney’s Into the Woods opens in movie theaters everywhere Christmas Day, December 25, 2014. (And in case you were wondering, every bolded-italic line in this piece is a lyric from Into the Woods… thank you Stephen Sondheim, for being fearless.)