The Woodlawn Theatre gave me some tickets to Into the Woods so my kids and I could see the Sunday matinee and report on our experience. We thoroughly enjoyed Act I, but left at intermission because I felt that Act II would not be suitable for children as young as mine (ages 4 and 6). (Learn more: Is this show good for kids?) Act I is a satisfying piece of entertainment, and I would recommend that other families with young children use the same strategy we did.
The Woodlawn was a movie theater from the 1940s to the 1970s (highlight: hosting the the 1960 premier of John Wayne’s The Alamo), and is now an anchor of the Deco District, offering live theater and education programs.
Into the Woods, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, is a sly musical mash-up of several traditional Brothers Grimm fairy tales. The Woodlawn’s production features a talented local cast, a live band, and impressive sets. The show runs through March 16, with shows on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, and a teen production on March 3-5.
My six-year-old son, F.T., was totally engaged during the show and kept asking me questions about the action—in a full speaking voice, not a whisper. (Apologies to my fellow adult patrons.) In particular, during the ruckus between Little Red Riding Hood, Granny, and the Wolf, F.T. wanted to know who was winning. He did not want anyone messing with Rapunzel’s hair. Also, F.T. was concerned for the fate of Cinderella’s evil stepsisters.
F.T. also enjoyed the theater magic. As the lights dimmed, he said:
The woods are spooky.
He also enjoyed the special effects during the witch’s spellcasting. Lately, he’s been asking a lot questions about “real” and “pretend”.
The themes of Act I are accessible for kids. Each set of fairy tale characters—Cinderella and her prince; Red Riding Hood, the wolf, and her granny; Jack (of beanstalk fame); etc.—has their own hero journey, with bumps in the road. The music brings the characters together in rousing ensemble numbers, including the title song, which describes the woods as a place to test ourselves and grow.
At intermission, when the house lights came up, F.T. asked,
Is the movie over?
And for us, it was. Act I stands on its own and is long enough for an afternoon’s entertainment; staying for Act II would have taxed my children’s capacity for good behavior. Also, I would have had more explaining to do: Act II has more adult themes, because “happily ever after” is not so happy after all. Be careful what you wish for, indeed.
After the show, we walked down the sidewalk to our car, past the band members enjoying paletas from El Paraiso. On the way home, I asked F.T. about the show. He summed it up:
Those people make bad choices.
Ah, he gets it. Drama.
- “First impression: ‘Into the Woods'”, Deborah Martin, Art Beat, February 15, 2014.
- “Three Sondheim shows are playing on S.A. stages”, Deborah Martin, San Antonio Express-News, February 14, 2014.
- F.T.’s previous review, of DISCOVER “New World” Symphony
Disclosure: The Woodlawn Theatre gave me a set of free tickets so my kids and I could see Act I of “Into the Woods”; all opinions are my own (and F.T.’s).