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Into the Fridge, a Musical

The first musical I ever saw of my own volition was "Into the Woods", put on by my high school theater group. Not because I wanted to see it in particular, but because my friend and crush Jenny M. was playing Cinderella. But I enjoyed the whole thing, perhaps laying the ground for future enjoyment of the Xena and Buffy musicals. I don't remember the performance that well, apart from some mental images of her, and being offended on her behalf when some people said she should have been Rapunzel. She did have waist-length golden hair (and I do mean golden) but no, she was a fine Cinderella. The tunes and songs did bounce around my head for years in fragmentary form, I believe; those made a lasting impression. As did the plot; I just can't visualize most of the performance.

In my first year in grad school IU was putting it on, and I went to see it. I remember liking it, and I have an image of Riding Hood brandishing her knife, but that's about it, apart from refreshing my acquaintance with the music.

Today I learned somehow that the MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players have been putting it on -- one last performance tomorrow afternoon -- and I scrambled to go see it tonight. I took some photos of the cast at the end, so maybe I'll be able to refresh my memory. At any rate, it was good too! Fresh, I can say all the cast sang well, at least by my standards, especially the stars. Acted well too, including gestures and facial expressions. I was also impressed by the physical casting for many roles: Cinderella's prince looked Elizabethan, like a Henry VIII type, broad and with the right beard; the other prince was tall and aquiline/Roman, much like the stereotypical Prince Charming. Riding Hood looked the perfect little curly brown haired girl (and may indeed be a young teen.) The beautiful women were beautiful, or at least pretty. Jack looked like a young fool, etc. I met an SCA girl afterwards, who said she'd been in a performance on a more impressive stage, but it was fine by me.

Riding Hood with her knife is always great, as is "You can't frighten *her*". Thought: is she a prototype for other ferocious waifs like Buffy and River Tam?

Another impressive thing: many of the voices *sounded* right, as if they were right off the soundtrack. Did they cast or voice coach specifically to imitate the original cast?

Weird thing was a green monitor I noticed, in front and mostly facing the stage, showing a conductor of what I believe was live music hidden somewhere -- no visible orchestra, but we heard tuning after the intermission, and they're in the program. Perhaps seeing the conductor provides a visual cue for the actors? I have no idea.

Also weird: Hansel and Gretel are in the cast list, and wandered around on stage, but never spoke or did anything, and don't seem to be in the original cast or script. Random supernumerary addition?

Worst thing was the seats being cramped and the auditorium being rather hot. But I'd still recommend it. $15 for the public, though if you say you're MIT community I don't think they check.

But! In the past ten years I've picked up a lot more Internet Fandom Media Criticism Theory, so I noticed some things. Feminist things.

Bechdel test: It passes. Cinderella and Hood, talking about Hood's mother and getting on in life; witch and Rapunzel, talking about Rapunzel's childhood (and slightly, the prince); Cinderella and her atrocious family. Maybe others. So it passes, though perhaps not with flying colors, especially if you want women talking as equals and not in a maternal relationship. The witch and other women argue a lot, but with the baker or Jack present, and largely about Jack.

Women in Refrigerators: Ouch. The cast is majority female, by a good margin counting all the marginal characters, but women are a supermajority of the characters who die. Rapunzel, Jack's mother, the Baker's wife. Hood's mother and granny are missing and presumed dead, granted her mother never appears on stage. It'd be unfair to count Milky White, or note that while both giants die, only the giantess is speaking. But still, 4 stage characters, plus a mother, all killed. The baker's father just keels over, then has a speaking part later anyway. The Narrator is killed, but the Narrator is only male by default, and has no connection to any character -- hell, that's the point. Five women are killed, motivating other characters, and killed kind of gratuitously. One could try arguing e.g. that Jack's the hero so his mother has to die if everyone's going to lose someone (and all the survivors *have* lost someone) though given that the musical is deconstructing fairy tales I don't think the hero has to live at all. But the baker and his wife are original characters, the baker could die just as easily, to be *her* person in a refrigerator.

And the baker's wife is, well, the baker's wife, labeled only as an extension of her man. Granted, there are only three named characters in the whole musical, four if you count Little Red Riding Hood; everyone else is called by role.

Actually, my very first critical thought was "oooh, she just committed adultery with the prince, she dies now like a slut in a horror film, right?" Right.

And granted Riding Hood's family has no males in it to lose, though given her friendship with Jack, he could motivate both her and his mother.

And of course Rapunzel, despite being one of the few named characters, barely has a role, let alone any agency. She's a prop, a trophy, goes mad, and goes squish.

OTOH, the characters who are strong and grow are also mostly female: the stars are Cinderella, the baker's wife, Riding Hood, and the Witch, along with the Baker and I guess Jack. The other men, even (especially?) the princes, are static roles, even if the two have great songs and presence.

So, I still enjoy it, and I'll happily see it again sometime, as well as listen to the songs (maybe try to learn them?) But now I've got marring thoughts. Is it deconstructing the role of women in fairy tales, as with Cinderella's big decision in part I being to not make a decision? Or is it just falling unconsciously into the standard traps and tropes?

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Damien Sullivan

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