Willow was a musical set on the edge of the Forest surrounding the town of Averno. Its plot spans multiple generations, stories and characters, all centered around an old willow tree on Beatrice's farm.
Averno Bible Description
A tender and explosive story following 2 gay couples, a young girl, and her imaginary friend. Set In three different time periods (2006, 2011, and 2012), the stories are united by one thing: the willow tree all the girls meet underneath. With music by 16-year-old August Greenwood, an ensemble cast of women of all ages, Willow looks at the love that transcends all kinds of gaps, and the impressions we leave behind on our communities.
Note: there are 3 primary timelines in Willow and while this synopsis is organized in the order of the show, chronologically Cassia’s story is first and Meg’s story is last. This story deals with themes of cancer, substance abuse and death, and mentions of those will be marked with brackets on either side. This synopsis also contains spoilers, so read at your own risk.
2012: Meg (and her imaginary friend)
On the old Anderson farm on the outskirts of Averno sits a willow tree so tall that when sitting beneath it, you can barely see the stars. If you asked Beatrice Anderson how long it had been there, she would probably just shrug- or say something about sticking your nose in other peoples beeswax. The willow was a part of the land, permanent and steady and a little mysterious, as all things are that grow without permission.
When we first meet the willow tree (1. Sweet Willow) it is surrounded by creatures less permanent, though perhaps more mysterious than trees- Adelaide, Beatrice, Cassia, Grace, and Meg. They don’t know each other yet- but this summer, all of that will change.
Adelaide is a Good Southern Lady. She got her first job when she was 15, bringing coffee to the men in Averno’s only bank. By the time she was 20, she was a teller. She married a good man, Daniel, and got a townhouse and had 4 lovely children. She worked hard for her whole life- they even saved enough to take a vacation to Majorca in ‘73. Her children went to great schools (except Amy) and settled down and had kids of their own (except Amy). When her husband died last year, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone. He had lived well, and they had had a good life together.
As she walks home from church one Sunday morning (2. Adelaide’s path), she watches the flowers blooming. She remarks to herself that they’re late this year (as Daniel isn’t around to remark to), and then realizes something- she’s walked on this same path every year for 70 years. She knows when the magnolias are late for the season. And she has no one to tell. Suddenly she is angry- or at least, riled. She doesn’t know what she wants for the rest of her life, but it isn’t to talk to thin air about late-blooming magnolias. She wants- well, something. Something new. So she steps off the path.
And that is how she finds herself bumping into Beatrice while accidentally trespassing on the Anderson farm in her sensible heels.
Grace has known about the willow tree since she was 14. [At this point she’s lost count of how many empty whiskey bottles she’s hung from its branches. She comes to the tree to get trashed, occasionally yell at the moon, and often to yell at her girlfriend. It isn’t always clear who is to blame for the disastrous relationship, but tonight her girlfriend threatened to commit suicide if Grace didn’t stop drinking.] The cops were called, the parents roped in, and all in all, Grace is feeling more than a little done with humanity (3. Twister). She and her trusty bottle of whiskey are about to make a night of it- until she hears someone coming. She ducks behind the tree as Cassia enters. Cassia is one of the Wild Ones- the children who are stolen away out of abusive/ neglectful homes in Averno and brought to the forest where they are raised by the Shadow Mothers. The Wild Ones are the Lost Boys of the forest, living in clubhouses of rusted metal, drinking mugwort tea and hunting deer in the predawn light, wild. But every Wild One must make a choice when they become an adult- leave the forest or follow the path of (eventually) becoming a Shadow Mother. Cassia made her choice long ago- she stayed in the forest, raised the other children, stayed in the twilight zone of her late-teens for a hundred years. She should have become a Shadow Mother long ago, but she always told herself she could wait just one more summer. But tonight, she has made up her mind. It is time. She goes to the edge of the forest for one last glance at the stars- and runs into Grace (4. A Meeting Under the Willow Tree). Perhaps, Cassia thinks, death could wait one more night.
Meg first meets her imaginary friend while on a mission. It’s the beginning of spring, and, more importantly, the beginning of bullfrog season. Meg wanders onto the Anderson farm while following the winding creek that goes down the hill by her house. With her net and jar in hand, she is of single-minded focus, just a girl and her undying wish for a pet frog. But down beneath the willow tree, she finds more than tadpoles- a voice on the wind, a whisper through the trees, and Meg has made her first imaginary friend.
On her way home from church, Adelaide cannot decide whether or not to stop by the willow. She has been invited into a secret clubhouse by a woman who wears men’s pants and sits in the dirt like a child. A woman who makes Adelaide feel- confused. To stop at the willow tree would be a decision, a declaration, an admittance. But then she realizes- maybe that’s a choice she’s willing to make. Hell, maybe that’s a choice she WANTS to make. You can’t ask the universe for adventure and then say no when it shows up. When she gets to the willow tree, she finds two new chairs waiting- one of them occupied by Beatrice.
Cassia didn’t plan on meeting a pretty girl the day she was supposed to die. After a hundred years, she should know better than to allow herself to be weak like that. She is a ticking time bomb, she is dangerous- and she might be in love. Beneath the willow tree, she convinces herself of what she already knows- that if she lets herself fall for Grace, and, more importantly, if Grace falls for her, all that can come of it is pain (5. Selfish). But then Grace returns and asks if Cassia can sit with her a while, Cassia can’t say no.
Meg comes to the tree almost every day. She talks to her imaginary friend about everything- the books she’s reading, what she wants to do when she grows up, her babysitter, her pet frog, what it means to grow up. She promises she will bring her little sister by to visit one day, when her parents finally let her.
Beatrice takes Adelaide around the farm, picking flowers, showing her the forests and the glades. (6. Dawn).
Grace asks Cassia to be her girlfriend.
Adelaide arrives at the tree early and gets a call from her doctor. When Beatrice arrives, she asks what’s wrong. Adelaide can’t bring herself to say (Selfish Reprise)
Grace knows something is going on with Cassia. Whenever she tries to kiss her, it’s like there’s a wall. Like if she kisses back, secrets will slip out. But in the end, it’s hard to argue when you’re so damn in love. At the peak of summer, they go down to pick raspberries by the base of the willow tree, and Grace thinks life can’t get much better (7. Lovers’ Quartet).
[Adelaide tells Beatrice about the cancer.]
Cassia sits beneath the willow tree. She can feel herself scattering, her memories slipping away, her mind fracturing and dissolving into the earth that has held her for so many years. Soon, she thinks she might not be able to hold on any longer. [But then Grace arrives- she is shaking, pale, clammy. Cassia doesn’t know what she took, but she took too much and suddenly, everything is wrong. Grace isn’t the one that is supposed to go. Cassia calls an ambulance.
Cassia and Grace meet up for the first time since Grace was released from the hospital. Cassia is furious. At first they just fight. Grace finally realizes how bad things are, and decides to go to rehab.]
Meg goes to the willow tree after fighting with her parents. They tell her that she needs to stop playing pretend, that she needs to grow up, that she’s too old to play pretend anymore. (8. Real to Me).
Beatrice paces back and forth beneath the willow tree. Living alone isn’t all that. Just because you’ve done something your whole life doesn’t mean it’s what you’re doomed to. When Adelaide arrives on her way home from church, she gets up the courage to ask Adelaide to move in with her. (9. Adelaide).
Grace returns from rehab and she looks better than she has in years. Her cheeks are fuller, her eyes are bright, she finally feels alive. Cassia, on the other hand, is dying. It’s been long enough now that she’s really not here anymore, but she’s afraid to go. (10. How to Let Go).
Cassia tells Grace. She finally tells her everything. About being stolen away from a home filled with shouts into a quiet forest. About growing up wild, running beneath the summer moon with her sisters, her family. About the Shadow mothers. About what Cassia must become.
There is a split scene- [Adelaide is in a hospital bed, while Cassia lays beneath the willow with her head in Grace’s lap. Beatrice and Grace console Adelaide and Cassia. As the moon rises in the sky, they slip away. As Cassia takes her last breath, a new star appears in the sky.] (11. I’m Here).
It’s fall. The willow is golden-orange and leaves gently drip down from it. Beatrice hasn’t come back since she buried Adelaide in the tree’s roots. She kneels down beneath the tree and places her hand on the moss. For a moment, it looks like she’s going to break down. Then, a little girl with rainbow sneakers and a butterfly backpack appears. Beatrice is bewildered as Meg babbles on at a mile a minute, showing off her jar of tadpoles. She is even more shocked when Meg climbs right up into Adelaide’s old chair. But when she asks Meg about it, Meg simply says:
“Oh! This is my imaginary friend’s chair. She said I could borrow it for a while.”
Beatrice looks up into the branches and smiles.
Song 12- Home.
List of Songs
A Meeting Under the Willow Tree
Real to Me
How to Let Go
How to Let Go (Christy Altomare)
Concept Album Cast
Emma Freeman - Grace
Janeen Garcia - Cassia
August Greenwood - Adelaide
Rachel Chau - Beatrice
Madelyn Paterna - Meg
- While the musical is set on Beatrice's farm that lies just outside the Forest, the themes of the musical fall in line with those of the Forest
- The first concept album for Willow released on September 25th, 2020. Listen to it here!
- The week following its release, Willow topped at #7 on Billboard's soundtracks chart.