The play that changed my so-called life

March 8, 2010

I picked up The Play That Changed My Life a couple of weeks ago, which is a lovely collection of essays in which various American playwrights recall the seminal theatrical moments of their childhoods that made them crazy enough to select theatre as their lifelong profession. It’s really sweet and fun, and surprisingly inspiring – the writers all manage to twig that moment in time when everything is new and magical without being all twee and annoying about it.

There are a few plays that changed my life and right now I’m going to tell you about the most embarrassing one. I doubt that this story will inspire you. It’s definitely not cool. There’s a lot of crying on the couch and compulsively writing Sondheim lyrics in my notebooks instead of taking notes in class. But sometimes the truth is as ugly as a frizzy-haired 13-year-old bawling on the sofa and freaking out when well meaning relatives call it “Into the Forest”. And, for better or worse, this is the truth: I was not the same after I watched Into the Woods as I had been before.

It was a normal night in 1995, meaning I was probably scowling at my sisters, stomping around upstairs, and avoiding doing my homework. And then I turned the tv on and, since Seinfeld wasn’t in syndication yet (was it? Maybe it was. In any case, I couldn’t find an episode of it on), I flipped to Bravo, home to reruns of my favourite terrible show, Fame. A musical I didn’t recognize was playing, but since I liked musicals anyway, I stuck with it. Two hours later I was a blubbering mess, sure I had just witnessed the pinnacle of human creative achievement, and feeling like I’d been given something crucial that I hadn’t even known I’d been missing.

You're missing all the flowers.

Lucky for me (in retrospect, this is debatable), Bravo was showing Into the Woods again the next day, so I could tape it and watch it every single day for the whole next year. (That’s not an exaggeration for effect. If anything, it’s an understatement.)

No, I wasn’t the same after that first viewing of Into the Woods: I was far more annoying. I was an irritating and socially inept adolescent before I discovered Stephen Sondheim, but afterwards I probably could have used some anti-psychotic medication. Even my best friend, who would herself yammer on ad nauseum about The Yardbirds (no, no one I knew liked anything normal, like Oasis, or whatever the kids were listening to back then) got sick of my nonstop chatter about all the ingenious double entendres in Sondheim’s lyrics and how clever and symbolic the double casting was and how Joanna Gleason is the greatest actress of all time and why isn’t she more famous and OMG I WISH I HAD HER DARK AUBURN HAIR!

Into the Woods didn’t exactly change my life for the better, not immediately, anyway. Instead, it helped plunge me into the type of analytic obsessiveness mustered only by depressive young teenagers. (Of course, that was probably due more to timing than anything else. And it could have been much worse! Imagine if I’d watched Interview with the Vampire instead!)

This is how all my classmates looked at me when I wouldn't shut it about Sondheim musicals.

But Into the Woods did magnify the already festering inkling that theatre was all I really cared about, the only thing (aside from the occasional game of Tetris or maybe a Twix bar) that got the dopamine racing through my mopey little brain. I already liked theatre before I watched Into the Woods. But after that night, theatre wasn’t just something I liked. After that night, theatre was something that I needed: to watch, to do, to live. It was still a couple more years before I worked up the self-confidence to actually audition for a school play (that’s another story, and a much happier one), but I can pinpoint the moment when the hunger for art that would eventually send me to theatre school was born, and it was the night that Bravo decided to air the PBS recording of the original Broadway production of Into the Woods.

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3 Responses to “The play that changed my so-called life”

  1. seenonflickr Says:

    And I’ve never seen it!!

    Blood Brothers broke me in ways I can’t explain. And Les Miserables was the first really huge sweeping story I got caught up in.


  2. […] Ali­son Brover­man on the uses of enchant­ment. Which is to say Into the Woods, which was inspired by the Bet­tel­heim book of the same name. But the enchant­ment Ali­son talks about isn’t just fairy tales and sto­ry­telling. She’s talk­ing about the enchant­ment of the­atre. Inspired by The Play That Changed My Life, she tells us about her own elec­tric engage­ment with Sond­heim and Lap­ine. And now? She’s a play­wright. Funny how that works. […]


  3. […] In retrospect, there were probably worse ways we could have been channeling our obsessive energy, and we got a kick out of seeing some of those old Playbills (we were a spoiled young lady who was taken to New York City quite a lot and watched quite a lot of Broadway shows – we’ve even got the Playbill from the underrated Titanic musical in there, and the one from the revival of Into the Woods. […]

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