Monday, January 12, 2015


It’s earned over $100 million at the box office so far, charting the best debut of a Broadway-inspired musical ever, so Disney’s Christmas Day release of “Into the Woods” looks on track to become a record-breaking hit.

As a Stephen Sondheim fan, I would agree that “Into the Woods” is a terrific musical (and for those concerned, fine for kids; mine had the soundtrack memorized in preschool, and they’ve seen the Broadway production, the Shakespeare in the Park version, and now the movie). As someone with a Masters degree in Media Analysis who writes on Jewish topics, I also see “Into the Woods” as quietly, subversively Jewish. Here’s why.

Stephen Sondheim is Jewish. Wealthy, assimilated, grew up on the Upper West Side of New York City Jewish. (Sondheim’s first Broadway job was writing the lyrics to “West Side Story.” When offered the assignment, he reportedly responded, “But I don’t know any Puerto Ricans. I don’t even know any poor people.”) In the book, “Stars of David” by Abigail Pogrebin, Sondheim confessed he also didn’t know how to pronounce “Yom Kippur” until his “West Side Story” collaborator, Leonard Bernstein, set him straight.

Still, I contend that just because he didn’t grow up listening to “Kol Nidre,” or consciously set out to write a musical infused with Jewish themes, that doesn’t mean “Into the Woods” isn’t, at heart, a Jewish show.

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