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Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc

Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc

Listener
#1Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 12:32pm

Hey ITW fans - a question.

I get that the Baker's Wife is a popular character - JG did a great job in the original company - and that her fate gives the show a certain weight to it, but I don't really get why her big song is typically met by cheers, or why it's any more of a conclusion to her arc than, say, Little Red realizing what she does after her encounter with the wolf.

How does having a little affair/hookup somehow provide enough enlightenment to then conclude her journey? How is that narratively satisfying?

I see the role she plays in the overall piece, but her character arc itself seems...less brilliant than people apparently think it is.

So I'm hoping those of you who have studied the piece over the years might shed some light on it for me. It's an "iconic!!" role....but I'm not sure why. Other than needing comedy chops and a decent voice, it's not particularly demanding...and as I've said, her arc doesn't entirely wow me.

Updated On: 2/23/24 at 12:32 PM

dramamama611 Profile Photo
dramamama611
#2Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 12:56pm

I think the point is: we don't all get to finish our journeys. Some of them are prematurely ended for us 


If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.

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Kad
#3Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 1:03pm

It's not necessarily her having a fling that brings her enlightenment.

Her arc in act 2 is parallel to the Baker's: in act 1, they wanted nothing more than a child. In act 2, they grapple with the realization that having a child is not an ending, but a beginning to something harder: being a parent. Their fortunes are not improved after act 1, and in fact seem worse: the house is too small and the Baker has, due to his own insecurity and fear, more or less retreated from his responsibilities as a father and left most of raising the child to his Wife until the child is older, and the Baker's Wife- who is far more clever and capable than her husband- is left feeling unappreciated. While they have their ups and downs in the first act, the Baker and his Wife are at odds for basically all of the second.  And despite getting their wish, they find they still need and want more.

The Baker's Wife's dalliance with the Prince at first seems to be that "more" she wants. A flash of excitement and appreciation- but then he dashes those hopes basically as soon as he ignites them. The Baker's Wife comes to see that these moments of getting more aren't sustainable to build a life around and while they're having problems now, the constancy of her family life is enough. Occasionally getting more can be needed and nice, but it's fleeting- and getting it forever cheapens it. Essentially, she comes to appreciate her life as it is, and puts aside the gnawing desire for more.

It's not as a clear-cut, unambiguous lesson like the ones that Little Red and Jack learn, for sure. But Little Red and Jack are adolescents and the Baker's Wife is an adult- and adulthood is nothing but ambiguity and grey areas.


"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."
Updated On: 2/23/24 at 01:03 PM

Listener
#4Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 1:06pm

I fully get that part, dramamama :) That's her purpose in the overall narrative...but seeing the actresses who play her get rapturous applause after her final song, which is cute but not especially brilliant, mystifies me a bit.

Maybe if she deeply resented the Baker at the outset and dreamed of an affair, I'd go "okay - this resolves that", but she doesn't seem anything more than slightly curious about being wooed by a Prince when she chats with Cinderella, which is natural.

Her death affects the others, yes, but why choose to have her die immediately after a roll in the hay? I don't get it.

Why give her a roll in the hay in the first place? Why not a song about any other thing?

You know what I mean?

Updated On: 2/23/24 at 01:06 PM

chrishuyen
#5Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 1:20pm

Kad said it very well, but I just want to add that I think there's something freeing at the end of her song.  For so long, it seems like she's been kind of shoehorned into a certain type of life--she's not the type to go to a ball or meet a prince or really have any kind of life except thinking about the next day's bread.  But through their adventure in the woods, she's been able to discover all of that, and while it isn't a sustainable life, I think knowing that the option exists and that there CAN be other aspects to her life, even if she's never able to come back to the woods again in the same way, also gives a new outlook on her "mundane" life (or in the words of Jack, "The roof, the house and the world you never thought to explore").

Listener
#6Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 1:22pm

Kad said: "It's not necessarily her having a fling that brings her enlightenment.

Her arc in act 2 is parallel to the Baker's: in act 1, they wanted nothing more than a child. In act 2, they grapple with the realization that having a child is not an ending, but a beginning to something harder: being a parent. Their fortunes are not improved after act 1, and in fact seem worse: the house is too small and the Baker has, due to his own insecurity and fear, more or less retreated from his responsibilities as a father and left most of raising the child to his Wife until the child is older, and the Baker's Wife- who is far more clever and capable than her husband- is left feeling unappreciated. While they have their ups and downs in the first act, the Baker and his Wife are at odds for basically all of the second. And despite getting their wish, they find they still need and want more.

The Baker's Wife's dalliance with the Prince at first seems to be that "more" she wants. A flash of excitement and appreciation- but then he dashes those hopes basically as soon as he ignites them. The Baker's Wife comes to see that these moments of getting more aren't sustainable to build a life around and while they're having problems now, the constancy of her family life is enough. Occasionally getting more can be needed and nice, but it's fleeting- and getting it forever cheapens it. Essentially, she comes to appreciate her life as it is, and puts aside the gnawing desire for more.

It's not as a clear-cut, unambiguous lesson like the ones that Little Red and Jack learn, for sure. But Little Red and Jack are adolescents and the Baker's Wife is an adult- and adulthood is nothing but ambiguity and grey areas.
"

Interesting. I hadn't noticed as much the hard times they were dealing with in Act 2, or considered the cumulative effect they would have on her. Thanks for reminding me of him retreating from his parental duties. It's stated but not emphasized in a way that landed with me.

...but again, that puts her death more in service of his character arc than hers. Her getting an unfulfilling f wouldn't really make the disproportionately large burden on her shoulders more bearable, would it? She'd just go back having to do everything again, right?

Jack's mother's death serves to push him forward as a character, but also works as an extension of her own. She is fiercely loving and protective over him. So I don't see her death as coming out of nowhere, though it kinda does. But it adds up.

The Baker's Wife's is arbitrary and moves the other characters and the show forward, and therefore feels like more of an editorial choice than a natural final act. I think her death could have abrupt without being so....random.

Rapunzel dies abruptly too, but running away from her abusive "mother" after having been driven insane by her. She's never given much agency and her purpose is really to serve the Witch's arc, so that works fine.

I'm okay with a death being random in a crisis - that's realistic - but I don't understand how a moment so pivotal in the piece and a character so beloved both seem not to add up, given the positive response they garner.

...I suppose I'm asking a bunch of different questions about her, her popularity, her revelations from the affair, and her death.

Updated On: 2/23/24 at 01:22 PM

Kad Profile Photo
Kad
#7Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 1:27pm

Yeah, her death does serve the Baker’s character, not hers. I’m not arguing that Into the Woods’ second act is perfect writing- it’s famously not. And the Wife’s death in particular has never been well solved and presents trouble for many stagings, where the exact cause of her death seems up to interpretation (I’ve seen her fall, be crushed by a tree, or just throw her hands up and then blackout- none are great, but all certainly better than the initial idea of her eating a poison apple).


"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."

berniesb!tch
#8Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 1:33pm

Kad said: "Yeah, her death does serve the Baker’s character, not hers. I’m not arguing that Into the Woods’ second act is perfect writing- it’s famously not. And the Wife’s death in particular has never been well solved and presents trouble for many stagings, where the exact cause of her death seems up to interpretation (I’ve seen her fall, be crushed by a tree, or just throw her hands up and then blackout- none are great, but all certainly better than the initial idea of her eating a poison apple)."

I had no idea that was ever the original conceit for her death. Thank God they changed that. 

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Kad
#9Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 2:25pm

If I recall correctly, that's how she died for the entirety of the pre-Boradway run of the show at La Jolla. There used to be video of it online. It was... very anticlimactic and it's wild it made it into any performances at all.

Here's a thread from over a decade ago that has more info on all the material cut and changed in the show before it was finalized on Broadway.


"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."

Dancingthrulife2 Profile Photo
Dancingthrulife2
#10Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 2:27pm

I think the idea is that she's finally living for and as herself, and not the "baker's wife." Until the affair, all she did was fulfilling the traditional gender roles of being a wife: having a baby and providing support for her husband. Never was she afforded freedom to do something that's just for her, and her alone. The fulfillment is the discovery of self: "Just remembering you've had an and when you are back to or, makes the or mean more than it did before."

MemorableUserName
#11Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 3:36pm

Listener said: "I fully get that part, dramamama :) That's her purpose in the overall narrative...but seeing the actresses who play her get rapturous applause after her final song, which is cute but not especially brilliant, mystifies me a bit.



I mean, if that's how you feel about the song, then sure, the whole thing may come across as lacking. I suspect to many, the song isn't merely "cute," but meaningful and relatable. I know I respond to the journey she travels during the song, which is explicitly about life. The specific circumstances are hers, but the themes are something many of us can relate to as we try to find happiness and satisfaction in the time we're given.

Her death affects the others, yes, but why choose to have her die immediately after a roll in the hay? I don't get it.
 

If she did die immediately after a roll in the hay, then it would be an abrupt ending to her arc. But she doesn't. She has this song first. The roll in the hay sparks her realization that resolves her arc. She dies after the realization.

It's a show that starts with a bunch of people wishing for something they don't have, and if anything, she gets a more satisfying resolution to that than most of the others. Everyone else's wishes turn to sh-- and they're left to pick up the pieces of what's left and carry on together. But her arc concludes before her death. She starts out wishing for something, finds it dissatisfying when she gets it, wishes for more, gets that...and ultimately has a moment of realization about what she really wants, the fleeting pleasures of certain desires, and what truly matters to her. She gets an appreciation of the thing she wished for from the start (which is more than what any of the others get). The fling with the prince may have been disappointing, yet she even finds appreciation for that, something that will always be meaningful for her even as she lets it go. Her experiences--her own actions and mistakes--lead her to an understanding of who she really is and what she wants. That's not a bad place to be when the end comes. We should all be so lucky.

Updated On: 2/23/24 at 03:36 PM

Sebastian
#12Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 4:46pm

Kad said: "And the Wife’s death in particular has never been well solved and presents trouble for many stagings, where the exact cause of her death seems up to interpretation."

She dies chased and crushed by the giant in the last revival, which I think it's great. You know; very good and all that you had your realization in the woods but there's a lady giant seeking revenge for her husband's death and calamity doesn't wait for character development, which helps to increase the feeling of crisis the situation really has and how all the other characters need to get their sh*t together quickly.

Updated On: 2/23/24 at 04:46 PM

rattleNwoolypenguin
#13Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 4:55pm

The Baker's Wife death is random and that is PRECISELY the point.

Death is random in our lives.

It comes and hits us and we go "why?" and there is no why.

Her death feels like that car crash of grief.

That's why it works brilliantly. 

"Sometimes people leave you halfway through the woods" there's no why- it just is.

Robert McDonald
#14Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 5:04pm

Another fun Baker's Wife tidbit: Maybe They're Magic was originally a full length song rather than the short little ditty it ended up as. There's a recording out there of Joanna Gleason singing it in a very early reading. I definitely get why it was cut down, the rest of it was pretty redundant, but the lyrics and music were fun and it's too bad they haven't been preserved elsewhere.

MemorableUserName
#15Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/23/24 at 6:19pm

Sebastian said: "You know; very good and all that you had your realization in the woods but there's a lady giant seeking revenge for her husband's death and calamity doesn't wait for character development."

Sure it does. She didn't get chased and stomped on before she sang the song, or during. The lady giant did wait until she was done. ;)

 

bear88
#16Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/24/24 at 2:51am

The death of the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods is probably one of the most jarring deaths in musical theater. in part because it just happens, very abruptly, to the most likeable character in the show who is its star. Any question of what the second act was about was definitely answered then. It’s good Lapine and Sondheim got rid of the poison apple, because that would have strongly suggested she was being punished for eating forbidden fruit. I will have to disagree that ‘Moments in the Woods’ is something slight, but that’s a matter of personal taste.

Listener
#17Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/26/24 at 3:01pm

MemorableUserName, I'm not putting down the song by saying it's cute. It is cute. It's a cute, funny, poignant song about having a realization about what you have versus the illusion of what you'd like, and I appreciate it on those terms.

I guess I've never understand what makes her character so beloved by fans of the show. I like her! I just probably wouldn't cheer after "Moments in the Woods", unless I knew she was about to die and therefore wanting to send the actress out on a high note...which I'm starting to think is the reason for the big response to that song.

It's not slight, exactly - like so many of Sondheim's songs, it says some interesting things - but it isn't a big moment.

I suppose if more was done with the idea that she wanted an affair and wanted a break from her husband, her getting her "wish" and deciding the husband was better would be more fulfilling.

It's VERY interesting to hear she would have possibly died either by poisoned apple, or after returning to her husband and dying trying to save her child. In fact...I kinda like that last one as her ending better.

I don't mind her death being a bit jarring, but dying in the process of protecting her baby feels more earned than the...whatever happens after her tryst.

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darquegk
#18Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/26/24 at 3:08pm

I think in his memoirs, Sondheim describes the Baker and the Baker's Wife as, symbolically, modern American Jews in the very traditional, European Protestant world of fairy tale iconography. They are very much in that late eighties early nineties upper middle class New York Jewish mode exemplified by later Woody Allen, Albert Brooks and Larry David/Jerry Seinfeld: philosophically inclined, neurotic, driven by vague ideals and goals and morally ambivalent in a way that contrasts them with the rather more "straightforward" fairy tale characters around them. They were a new way not only of thinking, but of feeling. They didn't just DO, they thought and pondered and analyzed. 

The Princes are cheaters, but they don't think about it, they just do it. We see how little the seduction process means to the Prince both during "Any Moment" and the second "Agony." But the Baker's Wife has a fling and not only is her life changed, her outlook runs in circles trying to make sense of it all before deciding that there are no answers. If the roles of the other characters are a very WASP yes or no, the Bakers are a very distinctly Jewish-American shrug. 

(This is a character interpretation that made more sense and POPPED more in the original production, before mass media proliferation made that sort of characterization less distinctly tied to a specific ethnoreligious group in a specific corner of America. Today, I don't think most people watch Seinfeld or Curb or Woody Allen and think "yeah, they're like that because they're Jewish.")

rattleNwoolypenguin
#19Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/26/24 at 3:09pm

Cause it's bursting with intelligence and gravitas as a musical theatre song. 

It's stunningly adult.

 

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henrikegerman
#20Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/27/24 at 10:57am

This is a great question. 

I felt a very personal connection with this character when I first saw the original production so my answer has to begin and end with Gleason.  Her performance was utterly natural and almost uniquely comedically economical. Everything she did was instantly endearing and funny.  It remains the most charming performance I have ever seen. Period. 

So part of the triumphant impact of Moments in the Woods was that she was at last alone on stage singing and that fact alone held so many of us in her grips. 

But I also think there is something rare and compelling about that song.  We are watching a woman we like married to a man we like and she has had just had a fling.  Let herself do something she has never done and something she believes she should not have done. And the song is so unexpected.  It is not about shame in any hackneyed way.  It is a humorous and smart and utterly Sondheimian soliloquy in which an intelligent everywoman thinks through her experience and says EVERYTHING that can be said about what, in the fairy tale traditional deconstruction that is this masterpiece musical, is a moral lapse from a loving marriage.  The character is hungry for knowledge and has humility - which is irresistible.  There is also a refreshing absence of self-recrimination!

There are lines in the song that ring primally true about marriage and about straying.  "Makes the or mean more than it did before" for one. I mean damn, Steve, you knew everything and you made it sing! 

 

Updated On: 2/27/24 at 10:57 AM

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MagicalMusical
#21Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/28/24 at 12:51am

Wow, I am.loving what all you defenders of the Baker's Wife's arc are saying! So very, very well put Kad, Chrishuyen, MemorableUserName, bear88, derquegk, rattleNwoolypenguin. And henrikegerman, damn!

Det95
#22Baker's Wife in Into The Woods Arc
Posted: 2/28/24 at 8:09am

Kad said: "If I recall correctly, that's how she died for the entirety of the pre-Boradway run of the show at La Jolla. There used to be video of it online. It was... very anticlimactic and it's wild it made it into any performances at all.

Here's a thread from over a decade ago that has more info on all the material cut and changed in the show before it was finalized on Broadway.
"

Thank you for linking that thread. It was a fascinating read