The second most often performed isn't West Side Story (twenty-eight scheduled productions), Gypsy (twenty-five) or A Little Night Music (fifteen). It's Into the Woods, with thirty-three productions scheduled from the British School in Abu Dhabi to the Mendelssohn Theater in Ann Arbor where it'll be performed by the U-M Theater Department, Oct. 14-17 & 21-24.
The popularity of Into the Woods is easy to understand. Its story--a pastiche of five of Grimm's fairy tales--is nowhere near as fearsome as Sweeney Todd's--and its blend of music and words--the first act sets lyrics written in iambic pentameter to music exploring the resources of the major second--is almost as tight.
Yet Into the Woods is as twisted in its way as Sweeney Todd. Without giving the plot away, let's just say things don't work out well for Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and his Beanstalk, or the Baker and his Wife, and that Sondheim's idea of a happy ending owes less to Rogers and Hammerstein than to Brecht and Weill.