For as long as I can remember, I have had a voracious appetite for reading and writing and have also enthusiastically embraced every opportunity to experience a live performance – musicals serving as my favorite type of staged productions.
I was around 9 or 10 when my mother took me to New York City, thanks to my father’s generosity, where I instantly became hooked on the lights, sights and sounds of Broadway.
Twice a year until I headed off to college, Mom and I would head to the East Coast for shows that included “1776,” “My Fair Lady,” “Dreamgirls,” “Annie,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “West Side Story.”
And those are just the musicals we watched together – like two children opening their gifts on Christmas Day.
With this being Women’s History Month, when we honor those women who have fought for our communities, families and society, the sacrifices my mother made and the love she shared came flowing back to my thoughts and into my heart.
In recognition of our always memorable “date nights at the theater,” I recently took in a musical, “Into the Woods,” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. And while I’ve seen this delightful production in the past – a tale that weaves together the main characters from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Rapunzel,” and “Cinderella” – I always seem to see something new or make a sudden connection that averted my senses before.
Like any good fairy tale, the Tony Award-winning musical, “Into the Woods,” begins with those four, almost magical words, “once upon a time.” Whether the words invite us to listen to one of our favorite fairy tales or fables, or mark the opening of the curtain for a live performance, they always both invite and encourage us to use our imaginations.
From the opening song, “Into the Woods,” we become aware that, if we didn’t know already, that when we leave the safety of our home and our neighborhood to venture into the dark and mysterious woods, bad things are liable to happen as we encounter malevolent beings like giants or witches or wolves.
Fittingly, one of the first songs poses this question to parents and then provides an answer: “How do you know the witches, the lies, the curse and all that’s in store? Hold your child to the light. Tell them what you know. Once upon a time …”
In the Kennedy Center production of “Into the Woods,” Montego Glover, a Tony Award nominee with credits that include “Memphis,” “The Color Purple,” and “Hamilton,” dons the role of The Witch – by far the most popular character among audiences since the show’s Broadway debut in 1987. And Glover, in a word, is simply “superb.”
The Witch must have attitude, have a voice that can go down to the cellar then soar into the heavens and make you believe she’s as mean and ugly as she is, later in the play, beautiful and conniving. Glover checks all the boxes.
Before Glover, my vote for “best “witch” went to Bernadette Peters, closely followed by Meryl Streep, Phylicia Rashad and Vanessa Williams. Now, with Glover in the mix, I may have to reconsider.
As she leads the cast in the final musical selection, “Children Will Listen,” we are reminded of the power – the lessons and admonitions from which children, as well as adults, can better prepare themselves for the world and the monsters who will inevitably cross our paths – after reading, hearing or seeing a good fairy tale.
Melissa Taylor, a mother, teacher, author and the creator of “Imagination Soup,” shares the following list of benefits that come when we expose our children to fairy tales.
- Fairy Tales Show Kids How to Handle Problems
- Fairy Tales Build Emotional Resiliency
- Fairy Tales Give Us a Common Language
- Fairy Tales Cross Cultural Boundaries
- Fairy Tales Teach Story
- Fairy Tales Develop a Child’s Imagination
- Fairy Tales Give Parents Opportunities to Teach Critical Thinking Skills
- Fairy Tales Teach Lessons
I would add additional reasons to the list above. In fact, I have done so when dealing with my daughter and my son, both adults now, and my grandson, currently in the third grade.
While my grandson, Jackson, often demands more time with his “tablet,” when he’s with me, he knows there will be the requisite story time – much to his dismay.
Sometimes the stories come from “Grimms Fairy Tales” or from “Aesop’s Fables.” But I’ve been known to switch things up with “The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales.”
We do our children a disservice if we don’t introduce them to fairy tales. The stories transport our children to another place, and make them feeling something – fear, joy, happiness, or excitement to name a few.
Fairy tales also provide a nonthreatening way to discuss universal themes like good versus evil and moral values like hard work and kindness.
Finally, and this is something with which even adults can relate, when life just “sucks” and you really need a happy ending – you’re stuck in your job, you just got dumped by your lover, you lost a lot of money, or someone dear to you has died – a fairy tale with a happy ending can soften the blow.
So, let’s try it again.
Once upon a time …