In the mid 1980’s Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine set out to write Into the Woods, a “quest” musical that would intertwine the characters and narratives of classic fairy tales with a contemporary underpinning.
By excavating the often overlooked darker aspects and implications (the ones you don’t see in the Disney versions), Sondheim and Lapine reintroduced audiences to the bedtime stories they heard as children—only this time Cinderella, Little Red and the charming Prince were tangled in confusion, conflict, sexual tension and ethical dilemmas.
While these fairy tale characters navigated unfamiliar emotional territory, they were instantly recognizable to audiences thanks to the detailed costume designs of Ann Hould-Ward, who collaborated with Lapine and Sondheim just a few years prior when she translated the pointillistic art of George Seurat into wearable fashion for Sunday in the Park With George.
This year marks 30 years since Into the Woods premiered at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, CA. Hould-Ward earned her second Tony nomination for her work on the production when Into the Woods arrived on Broadway the following year.
Playbill.com visited Hould-Ward as she opened up her “show bible” for Into the Woods to exclusively share never-before-seen sketches, photos and inspirations that are now a part of Broadway history.
What sources did you turn to when you began conceiving what these classic characters would look like?
Ann Hould-Ward: Lapine was so interested in really going back to the original fairy tales, and he was very interested in what the psychology was: the echoing of contemporary psychology (when we did it in the late 80s), and the psychology that people didn’t even know when they’re telling their children the fairy tales in the 1700s.
We went back and looked at a lot of the initial versions of the fairy tales to begin with. When you go back and look at a lot of those original fairy tales, they’re pretty terrifying. I mean, we’ve kind of made them easier for our children. Cinderella, if you go back and read some of the original versions, she ends up underneath a table being kicked by everybody at the table. There’s a lot more anxiety-ridden, anxious things that I think we’ve kind of cleansed the palette of those fairy tales with, through time. Then, we spent a lot of time looking at illustrations through time of all of these various fairy tales. We spent a lot of time with the [Arthur] Rackham versions, which are those are beautiful illustrations, then looking at some more contemporary ones and then starting to think about the characters all together from that.
Your concept for the Wolf, which married the physical attributes of man and beast, was dripping with sexuality—right down to being anatomically correct. I understand that it took several versions to get the look right.
AHW: Steve and James both felt that there needed to be a sexual nature—I mean, it’s in “Hello, Little Girl.” It’s in the song, right? My favorite singing of that song ever was listening to Steve in his library singing it at his piano, you know, just the nature of the enticement of that song is so wonderful and fun. But it’s got a darker side, too, this child and what’s happening. That’s a really good reflection of what we’re talking about with these fairy tales when we tell our children, they’re used to explore all sorts of other things in our lives, right? All sorts of other aspects of how we choose, how we make decisions. And so we wanted to have a very sexual nature to the Wolf, and so he has a prosthetic chest—we actually cast the chest of a body builder, I think. And he had all the physical attributes of a male. We really went through a lot of versions of what that should be, and what really worked from stage during the preview time.
This was also an era when these kinds of prosthetics were really being introduced and used for the first time. Phantom was implementing them as well. How do you go about capturing the right look, but making sure audiences can see and hear the actor?
AHW: It was a matter of casting their faces and then working with prosthetic designers and figuring out how much we could really put on. And, of course, you always have the situation in the theatre that it has to be adhered at least once a day and sometimes twice a day, and you’re gonna do it eight times a week, so, how much can their skin really take?
I remember Bernadette [Peters] really wanted this kind of lump on her chin, and so, she was wonderful about really inventing the Witch. My daughter was about a year old, and I needed to run down to the wardrobe department during a matinee, and Bernadette was sitting in the stairway waiting to go on. And of course I’m walking up with a baby and she goes “Ohhh!” and—forgetting that she had [the Witch prosthetics on]—and my daughter was like “Ahhh!” because this witch was glad to see her.
What were your biggest challenges with Into the Woods?
AHW: One of the interesting challenges was actually the Wolf muzzle for Bob Westenberg, because we really had to make sure that his singing resonance was the same. Because you’re actually making a funnel through which the sound is coming, and you could be vastly affecting it. There was a lot of figuring out how long that muzzle could be so that it could look like a snout, like a wolf has or a dog has, but that it also sounded right. We made a number of these and worked with Bob, and then had the final go of putting it all together and having Steve hear it to make sure that it sounded fine. So that was a pretty good challenge. Nowadays, I think maybe that stuff doesn’t sound so involved, but at the time, [Into the Woods] was of the very first productions of these kinds of prosthetics in the theatre that were used maybe once or twice and then had to be replaced. It was a whole process of figuring out economically how we did it in the theatre, how to make them a little more durable than movie prosthetics where they just rip it off and there’s a whole new set tomorrow. You’re trying to do it eight times a week for years and years and years—you hope.
A wonderful choice was to cast Little Red and Jack as these sort of overgrown children who hadn’t quite left the nest.
AHW: We were really basing it on the fairy tale. In their brilliance, Steve and James were playing that game in the casting of children who should be on their way out of the nest, but their parents have kind of entrapped them still in the clothing of the child: Little Red, the little girl, or Jack who’s very much a graphic representation of the character and a little boy’s costume. And so you’re looking at the dichotomy of them being trapped in that while they’re actually having the emotions of trying to get out into the world.
Since it’s been 30 years, can you reveal a bit of the magic behind the Witch’s transformation?
AHW: We wanted that transition to go as rapidly as it possibly could. That transition actually involved a [body] double, but even then, [Bernadette] was on an elevator down and back up to do the change. So, it actually involved getting part of the transition done before you realized it as an audience member. There were a number of costumes that they go through to be able to make that transition happen so rapidly at the very end. I remember the wonderful wardrobe mistress who did all of my shows up through Beauty and the Beast, Nancy Schaefer, was in charge of that transition, and we were so concerned about it. We were going to try it for the first time and I’m in the audience just like, “Oh my gosh, how’s this gonna go?” And it was done before we even knew it. It had happened, and it was perfect the very first time. But it was a lot of planning of what was changed when, how much of the prosthetics came off beforehand—a number of things. Most of the costume was already under other items by the time you saw Bernadette for the last time as the [beautified] Witch.
What are some of the memories you carry with you from working on Into the Woods?
AHW: One of the most thrilling things for me was the beloved Tom Aldredge, [who played the Narrator/Mysterious Man] and changed his clothes 13 times for me during the production. There were a number of versions of the costume for the Old Man, and he actually wore the Narrator’s suit underneath. The Narrator’s suit, the pants, the vest and the shirt was actually all on a zip-up-the-back, so it was like a unitard that he wore underneath the Old Man in the Woods outfit.
It was so astounding to think that it was Tom, [Tony-winning costume designer] Theoni V. Aldredge’s husband, who was doing this for me. I get goose bumps thinking about it still because of the incredible nature and what a marvelous actor he was, and all of these actors. It was a big show to take on psychologically, musically and, then, physically because there were the prosthetics; there were the quick changes; and, as a group of people, they were all so wonderful about being part of it, about what it was going to be as a whole, and we’re not always that blessed. To have the pleasure of being in the theatre and seeing them, watching them do the show – to see it on stage for the first time all put together was a marvelous part of it. I remember there was a little castle in the back when Cinderella does the big pratfall and slips in front of the Baker’s Wife. I remember seeing the castle light up in the background for the very first time, and she came in in that beautiful dress that Barbara Matera had made for me and slipped and fell, and I just remember looking at that and in that moment and had awe at how terrific that moment was. Even though we’d all envisioned it together, it was the sheer magic of the moment that was so marvelous to be part of.
Explore more of Hould-Ward’s designs below:
“James had really said he wanted the show to have a very graphic quality, like so many of the sketches of the fairy tales do. So there is a very tactile, graphic nature to how we used one fabric over another to achieve all sorts of various things. Then here’s the Wolf, really all of the tactileness you can see, the nature of everything that was put together to really give him the feeling...”
“All of the fabric [for Bernadette Peters as the Witch] that was done, really looked like the tree branches that were in Tony [Straige’s] set. This was all hand-painted in Martin Esquardo’s shop to really have all of the branches inside. This is a piece of the original cape that was in the second act—the red, and then the branches. And, of course, she had the velvet version of this that she wore at different points in the first act so she could hide amongst the trees and we didn’t know where she was.”
VIEW THE FULL GALLERY OF DESIGNS AND INSPIRATIONS FOR INTO THE WOODS: