Into the Woods of Motherhood


Lisa Helmi Johanson and Anthony Chatmon II as Little Red and the Wolf

My favorite musical is “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. I had the fortune of playing Little Red in high school and also wrote my college paper about how Sondheim had taken bits of music history (Wagner’s leitmotifs being my favorite) and wove it throughout the score. He also wove all the major fairy tales we learned as children into one big, dark and intriguing tale.

My mother’s day gift was to see the national tour of Fiasco’s staging of Into The Woods at the Ahmanson Theater. My darling husband surprised me with 4th row seats (swoon) and I was skeptic but excited about the production. They had scaled it down visually and made it more abstract in appearance. The characters sat in chairs around the stage and played instruments when they were not active on the stage. I thought it could be awful and perhaps my favorite, over the top, musical would be ruined.


It was wonderful. Without the big production to sidetrack my senses, I focused on the story more than I ever had. It was the first time I had viewed the show since becoming a mother, and really a true adult. If you haven’t seen it, the story is that all of the characters have a big wish for life. They have to venture into the woods (a metaphor for life) to try and “get their wish”. By the end of the first act, they each achieve that wish. The second act is about what happens when your wish isn’t everything you thought it would be. Sound familiar?

I desperately wanted at least 2 children. We had fertility problems. This is a major theme in the musical. I could identify…. I saw the Baker and his wife confused about how to care for a baby once their dream was realized. This hit home with me. My tiny T is a handful with big dreams and feelings these days and I struggle with how to firmly yet kindly manage his wishes and desires. I have been working on how to mother him and feeling inadequate about my progress. I felt so invigorated after seeing my favorite show through fresh, time travelled eyes. My least favorite song in the show has always been “Children Will Listen.” I did not see how it fit with the story. I thought it was a pretty song woven in for beauty’s sake. This time, it brought tears to my eyes. How could I not have understood before? The entire show is about how to navigate through the woods of life and whether you choose the good, bad, easy or hard path. What can be more relevant in that plot line than guiding a child?

Today for mother’s day, I am going to reflect upon these lyrics. I have already lost my temper when my tiny boy refused to sit through church. I could have been gentler. I could have focused on the gift and card he made me and gave me with such a glow in his eyes. I could have let it go instead of telling him how frustrated I was. Because they always listen and they feel so deeply.

Thank you dear husband for that beautiful gift. I will share the lyrics with you mamas out there who may need the same reminder I did.

children will listen


How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing’s all black, but then nothing’s all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn

To learn what to be
Careful before you say “Listen to me”
Children will listen
Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free

Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes a spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you
Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen

How do you say to a child who’s in flight
“Don’t slip away and I won’t hold so tight”
What can you say that no matter how slight
Won’t be misunderstood.
What do you leave to your child when you’re dead?
Only whatever you put in it’s head
Things that your mother and father had said
Which were left to them too

Careful what you say
Children will listen
Careful you do them too
Children will see
And learn
Guide them, but step away

Children will glisten
Tamper with what is true
And children will turn
If just to be free
Careful before you say
“Listen to me”
Children will listen

***I pulled pictures off the web from the Fiasco Tour’s Website. Some of the characters and cast have rotated roles or out of the show, but it gives you an idea of the feel of the show.

Teenage Boys and Musicals

I grew up with adults always asking me to sing for them.  This was great for my self-confidence, but not so much for my cool factor.  My husband and I went out, briefly, in 9th grade.  I was really excited about this because he was popular and thought it could help me out.  I invited him over one day after school while my parents were gone.  Like any normal teenage boy, he thought this could be a promising moment to fool around.  Like any focused, future artist, I thought it would be a great moment to sing for him.  He sat down in my tv room and I put on my Andrew Lloyd Webber cd and sang ALONG with Sarah Brightman to “Phantom of the Opera.”  I thought it went pretty well.  We broke up a couple weeks after that.  After we reconnected 10 years later, he told me it was one of the most uncomfortable moments of his life.  Apparently my son shares his view point because he started crying when I sang the high note of “I Had Myself a True Love” recently.  What do they know?

My favorite entertainment in life is musical theater.  It brings people closer.  One of my dearest friends became so after we bonded over our love for “Rent.”  It is not only a little luxury, but a necessity in my life.  Here are “musts” for any newbies to the art form.  I’m only listing shows that are on dvd, but support live art over a recording when possible.  There is always a deal to be found for the ticket.   Most of you reading this have children.   Little kids love musical theater.  Skip the weird new kid shows and pop one of these in.  You can even consider it educational and feel good about your parenting.

Adult Fairy Tales: “Into the Woods” (my very favorite)

Feel Good and an upgrade from Grease: “Bye Bye Birdie”.   Ann Margaret is to die for in the movie.

Swagger: “Guys and Dolls”.  Come on, Frank Sinatra is in this.

True American Nostalgia: “Oklahoma”.  I met Shirley Jones through my husband’s uncle and it was one of the best moments of my life and I had nothing remarkable to say.  I’ve seen her again and in true fan form, I avoid her but stare intensely from afar.

This is the New York I know: “Rent”.  The movie version is a far cry from the stage, but the music is still inspiring.

Probably the Most Beautiful Musical Score: “Camelot”.

Always a Winner with Kids: “The Sound of Music” and “Oliver”.  Oliver was the first musical I ever saw (at Scottsbluff High School) and it was so moving that I begged my mom for days to adopt an orphan.  I was 4.

Sexy and a Motivational Tool to Start Working Out: “Chicago”.

Great Dance and My Dad’s Favorite:  ”Westside Story”