Underground Sondheim

Nothing beats enthusiasm, and my friend Bryn has enough enthusiasm to blow your hair back when you’re standing still. If you’ve been reading Baddest Mother Ever for a while, you might remember Bryn from the story about painting elephants. She’s an actress and a director and a painter and a bon vivante.

So when Bryn was moved to racking sobs by the new “Into the Woods” movie then confessed that she had never seen it before on stage, Facebook blew up like only thespians can blow up. Facebook emoted, with banter and stage business. Within one evening, a plan had been hatched to put together a pop-up showing of the original Broadway production of “Into the Woods.” These people have keys to the theater, y’all.

Bryn included me because I confessed to being a Sondheim virgin myself. I invited Wise Heather to come along, because she gets all worked up about musical theater, marching bands, Doctor Who and other realms of high school geekdom. We’re perfect for each other.

It was a dark and stormy night. Seriously. Raining buckets. Or as my dad says, “Raining like a cow peeing on a flat rock.” Exciting stuff-going to a theater when there’s no show going on. I felt like it was a rave, or a popup dinner or some kind of underground Fight Club (but with jazz hands!)

To share, I brought two bottles of prosecco, a block of red wax Gouda, some crostini, two Asian pears, and a dozen plastic champagne flutes. Heather hooted when she saw that I had packed it all in a little red basket. I didn’t get the joke because I didn’t know that “Into the Woods” is all about Grimm fairy tale characters and I had cast myself in the role of Little Red Riding Hood.

We ran through the puddles and into the tiny lobby of the Town and Gown Theater. It felt like home right away. To actors, new people aren’t strangers–they’re POTENTIAL AUDIENCE MEMBERS! This jolly crew arrived with hot doughnuts, olive dip, witch’s brew punch, pear crumble, popcorn, not sloppy joes, broccoli dip, cookies, nuts. I popped open a bottle of bubbles and slipped right into the party.

At a theater potluck, you have brocade on the table.

At a theater potluck, you have brocade on the table.

What a cool treat–to have the run of a theater with no crowd there. Peeking inside the sound booth. Wandering up and down and around the aisles. Being able to choose a seat for yourself then take the seat next to it for your snack plate and wine glass. Knowing that there will probably be a sing-along portion and that will be perfectly OK.

A large video screen hung across the stage, in front of the remains of the Christmas show. A couple of clicks on a laptop keyboard and BOOM, there was the 1991 Broadway cast, singing for us as big as life and twice as beautiful. If you aren’t familiar with “Into the Woods,” I hear the movie is pretty good, but I can say without a doubt that the Broadway version is delightful. It’s the story of fairy tale characters whose stories cross in the woods. My favorite character was The Baker’s Wife. She and her husband are childless, thanks to a curse put upon his family by Bernadette Peters’ witch. She charges them to fetch four magical objects and in return she will give them the baby they so desire. Thus begins the story.

The Baker’s Wife–known by her role and given no name–ends up helping her husband in his quest for Jack’s cow, Rapunzel’s hair, Red Riding Hood’s cloak, Cinderella’s shoe. Along the way, she helps some and she hinders some.

The scene that got me, really struck my heart, occurs in the second act. The Baker’s Wife has her baby, but a new problem has arisen. As she and the other townspeople join together to fight this new problem, The Baker’s Wife ends up having a tryst in the woods with one of the princes. She’s alive again, being kissed and kissing. She’s smitten. She has it all for that moment.

And of course the moment can’t last. The Prince up and returns to being a prince. She’s left ruminating in the song “Moments in the Woods” about why those special moments in life can’t remain:


“Back to life, back to sense,
Back to child, back to husband,
You can’t live in the woods.
There are vows, there are ties,
There are needs, there are standards,
There are shouldn’ts and shoulds.

I live so much of my life balancing shouldn’ts and shoulds. We all do. We honor our vows and maintain our ties. But we have to find room and time for passion, for sneaking off to the theater on dark and story nights. Maybe bumping into a prince in the woods. Or the spaghetti aisle at Kroger.

Just a moment,
One peculiar passing moment…
Must it all be either less or more,
Either plain or grand?
Is it always “or”?
Is it never “and”?
That’s what woods are for:
For those moments in the woods…

Sitting there in the darkened theater, I choked up at that line–“Is it always ‘or?’ Is it never ‘and?'”  Having to choose the life of creativity and passion OR the life of security and ties? Wanting to stay up all night writing but knowing that the alarm will go off at 6:30 and the kids have to get to school on time.

Let the moment go…
Don’t forget it for a moment, though.
Just remembering you’ve had an “and”,
When you’re back to “or”,
Makes the “or” mean more
Than it did before.
Now I understand-

10887613_10204667907570629_6230022429851160789_oLooking around at the other people in that theater, the people who keep Town and Gown going season after season, I realized that I was privileged to be in a crowd of people who insist on AND. They have day jobs and family and mistakes and bills and dreams. They gather together on a dark and stormy night to tell the old stories. Heather, there beside me, rehearsed for the Symphony concert via videos while handling her dad’s funeral, a new job, AND a family. She hit her marks when the curtain went up. Bryn finds time to paint AND act AND parent. Every person in that crowd is finding a way from OR to AND.

I’m glad I got to be a part of that night. AND I stayed up too late writing this, but that’s OK too. Thank y’all for reminding me that there is room for AND in my life.


19 thoughts on “Underground Sondheim

  1. Donna

    how incredibly cool…..a night in the theatre with the theatre folks and Sondheim singing in your ear. perfect. You would have loved their performance of Company….another great Sondheim musical.

  2. Lisa in Athens

    I liked that you wrote “dark and story night” then later wrote “dark and stormy.”
    There’s several “ands” for you.


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