‘We’re gonna sing it again and again…’ - The utopian potential of two open endings in musical theatre

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Into the Woods – Stephen Sondheim’s and James Lapine’s 1987 fairy-tale musical – ends as it began, ‘Once upon a time…’. After this, the protagonist at its centre invites the audience to reflect on the tales we tell children and the impact this has, leading Cinderella simply to exclaim ‘I wish…’ as the lights go down. In a dramaturgical parallel, after Orpheus looks back at the end of Hadestown – Anaïs Mitchell’s 2019 musical retelling of the myths of Orpheus and Euridice, Hades and Persephone – the messenger Hermes reprises the opening song, defiantly exclaiming ‘we sing it anyway!’ as the cast reset the stage space for the story to be retold the following night. After the curtain call, Persephone leads the cast – out of character - in ‘raising their cups’ to the outsiders and the social justice warriors. Both works adapt and alter narratives and conventions of the literary and the mythological, end by beginning again, and adhere to the well-worn trope of the closing musical number. Yet, both also subvert the convention of the musical theatre finale with the theatrical coda of an open ending. Building from a current book project which explores the utopian potential of voice in musical theatre, this paper will use ideas from Paul Ricoeur (1976) and José Esteban Muñoz (2009) to offer a comparative reading of these two works, considering the disruptive potentiality of the theatrical open ending to offer a thrilling yet paradoxical performance of resistance, nostalgia and hope, in the face of social fracture, individualism, climate change, and inequality.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 7 Nov 2023
EventTo Exit - Literatures of Ending - University of Worcester, Worcester, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Nov 20237 Nov 2023


ConferenceTo Exit - Literatures of Ending
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

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