Learn fun facts about 'Into the Woods' on Broadway

Learn more about the Tony-winning musical before you venture into the woods for the latest Broadway revival.

Into the Woods

Once upon a time, a composer and a playwright teamed up to create a musical about Grimm fairy tale characters. That musical, Into the Woods, won three Tony Awards in 1993 and inspired an entire generation of theatre kids. Now, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s seminal musical is getting its second Broadway revival, which began June 28 at the St. James Theatre.

Into the Woods is about a baker and his wife who have to go on a quest in order to reverse a curse that a Witch had placed on their family. That is the only way for them to finally get their wish to have a child. While in the woods, they encounter other notable fairy tale characters: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk), and more.

This new version of Into the Woods has an all-star cast: Grammy Award winner Sara Bareilles (Waitress) as the Baker’s Wife, Tony Award nominee Brian d’Arcy James (Something Rotten!) as the Baker, Tony winner Patina Miller (Pippin) as the Witch, and Tony nominee Phillipa Soo (Hamilton) as Cinderella. Lear deBessonet directs the production based on one she helmed in May at New York City Center, which The New York Times called “glorious.” 

Before you venture into the woods yourself to see this new revival, learn more about Into the Woods, its characters, and the inspiration behind the show.

Check back for information on Into the Woods tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Into the Woods was originally inspired by The Wizard of Oz.

Sondheim previously worked with Lapine on the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Sunday in the Park with George. After the success of that show in 1984, Sondheim wanted to write another musical with Lapine, suggesting “a quest musical along the lines of The Wizard of Oz, the one movie musical I had loved in which the songs not only defined the characters and carried the story forward but were wonderful stand-alone songs as well,” Sondheim wrote in his book Look, I Made a Hat

Lapine then suggested creating a musical in which a number of well-known fairy tale characters would interact in a forest, “the all-purpose symbol of the unconscious, the womb, the past, the dark place where we face our trials and emerge wiser or destroyed,” wrote Sondheim.

That musical became Into the Woods. The 1987 Broadway production starred Bernadette Peters as the Witch, Chip Zien as the Baker, and Joanna Gleason as the Baker’s Wife. The musical won three Tony Awards: Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Actress in a Musical for Gleason. Into the Woods was subsequently filmed for broadcast on PBS, which you can purchase and stream.

Celebrities love Into the Woods.

Into the Woods ran on Broadway for two years. In that time, many notable theatre stars led the cast, like Marin Mazzie, who played Rapunzel in 1989. And since that first production, Into the Woods has become a favorite of many celebrities, who flock to the woods to get their theatre wish. Some notable celebrities who have starred in the musical include two-time Tony Award winner ​​Phylicia Rashad (as the Witch on Broadway in 1988), Imelda Staunton (as the Baker's Wife in 1990 in London's West End), Vanessa Williams (as the Witch in the 2002 Broadway revival), and Laura Benanti (as Cinderella in the 2002 Broadway revival). 

In 2012, The Public Theater presented Into the Woods at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. That production starred Amy Adams as the Baker’s Wife, Tony winner Denis O’Hare as the Baker, Tony winner Donna Murphy as the Witch, Jessie Mueller as Cinderella, and original Broadway cast member Chip Zien as the Mysterious Man. That production was free, and tickets were so in demand that people would line up in Central Park from 11 p.m. the night before to get tickets for the next day’s show, which were released at 1 p.m. 

But the most celebrity-filled version of Into the Woods is arguably the 2014 film, directed by Oscar winner Rob Marshall. The film cut out a number of songs from the musical, but what it lacked it songs, it made up for in star power. Meryl Streep played the Witch, Emily Blunt played the Baker’s Wife, James Corden played the Baker, Anna Kendrick played Cinderella, and Johnny Depp played the Big Bad Wolf. The Into the Woods film is available to stream on Disney+, and if you want to be a true musical nerd, you can watch both the PBS and Disney+ versions and see which one is your favorite.

Into the Woods was the first show to be adapted for children.

It’s normal now for most musicals to be adapted into kid-friendly versions, usually called "junior versions," that can be performed in schools. But it was not as common in the early '90s when Into the Woods premiered. Sondheim and Lapine were the first artists to let their show be adapted for kids.

Music Theatre International turned Into the Woods into a 50-minute musical called Into the Woods, Jr., containing just the first act. That shortened version introduced a generation of children to the magic of musical theatre — but those youngsters were in for a surprise when they grew up and realized there’s a darker second act to Into the Woods. So, careful the things you say, children will listen, and sing.

Photo credit: Neil Patrick Harris, Sara Bareilles, and Heather Headley in Into the Woods at New York City Center. (Photo by Joan Marcus)