A childless baker and his wife cannot have a child until they follow the bidding of the witch next door to get a cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold. Good thing, then that they've got neighbors named Jack, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Cinderella to help them before (and after) Happily Ever After. Written by
One of the great Stephen Sondheim's last great musicals combines four favorite fairy tales to make one classical epic: "Cinderella," "Jack & The Beanstalk," "Little Red Riding-Hood," and "Rapunzel." A fifth story is, of course, needed to bind them together, which comes here in the story of a poor baker and his wife who wish for a child, and to get it, strike a bargain with a witch to fetch the ingredients for a potion: "The cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slippers as pure as gold." The baker rescues
Red Riding-Hood from the wolf and is rewarded with her cloak, and then sells
the beans to Jack for his cow, while his wife plucks a hair from Rapunzel in her tower, and relieves Cinderella of her last shoe, since she is having trouble
escaping in one high-heeled slipper. Over the first act, we see the stories unfold just as we know them from our childhood, ending with "Happily ever after." In the second act, however, the characters' continuing stories are shown as not as
happy as we thought. Cinderella and Rapunzel's princes have lost their hearts' desires in the having of them, and start chasing after Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Red Riding-Hood has become obsessed with killing wolves, and
defending herself. Rapunzel, simultaneously missing her Witch-mother and
hating her, has moments of hysteria. As for the Baker, he feels insecure as a father, and his wife wishes their house were bigger. And the Giant's wife comes down another beanstalk to get revenge on Jack for murdering her husband.
Disaster strikes when, in desparation, the characters sacrifice the Narrator to the Giant, and thus destroy the person keeping the stories in order. Chaos ensues as the black and white so well divided before flow together. Heroes lie, Witches are right, Giants are good, heroes die. But still, the characters are able to stay together and defeat the giant and resolve their stories on their own. The moral of the story is simple: Learn from the stories, but don't live by them, as sung by the legendary Bernadette Peters as the Witch. She proves amazingly good at
playing the hideous old crone, and later becomes more of a Gothic beauty,
more suited to her beautiful voice and fantastic acting skills (Last Midnight, who would have thought a waltz could be so chilling?) The rest of the original
Broadway cast is also fabulous. Danielle Ferland is delightful as Red Riding- Hood, a Shirley Temple with a delightful mean streak. Robert Westenberg
makes the Prince funny and sad, and as the Wolf, brings out the lustful
undertones of the character, and Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason evoke
memories of Desi and Lucy as the married couple, while Kim Crosby is a
surprisingly independent Cinderella. All the cast sings one of Sondheim's
strongest scores, and brings the musical into the range of 10/10.
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