So I have finally caught up with the film version of Stephen Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS.
Sitting in a “Gold Class” cinema in my comfortable recliner with bowls of chunky chips, fried onion rings and iced water (in a glass, not a bottle) I settled back for the ultimate Sondheim cinematic experience. (A Father’s Day gift from and shared as a day out with my 24 year old daughter.)
Having seen the original Broadway production (1987) at the Martin Beck (now Al Hirshfeld) Theatre I was stricken with great emotion as the film began and those magical words, “Once upon a time…” were spoken. Teary eyed and excited, I sat there singing along in my head throughout the film.
Casting is absolutely wonderful. It is also nice to know that all the actors did their own singing. The movie remains faithful to the original storyline and score almost throughout with some obvious cuts known only to fans of the stage version of the musical.
Here is where I felt the need to revisit my DVD of the original Broadway production. The movie version is too dark in color and tone for my taste. The stage version allows the characters the opportunity to seem more real than on film. The one-liners, double entendres and sarcasm seem to come across more clearly when said live, on-stage, than in the movie. The characters in this movie seem to lack the opportunity to step out-of character to recognise the ridiculousness of their predicament. In a word, the stage version is a lot more “fun” for both the performers and especially the audience.
Missing from the film is the reprise of “Agony” sung by the two prince’s in the “what happens after you get your wish” portion of the story. Here the two prince’s offer comic relief as they stray from their current wives, Cinderella and Rapunzel to woo the fair (and sleeping) maidens Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Also missing is the touching moralistic and poignant song “No More” sung by the baker and the ghost of his father wishing we could just “…pursue our lives, with our children and our wives”, “How do you ignore all the witches, the curses, the wolves, the lies…?”
I found the storyline slightly disconnected near the end of the film and “I wish” the songs that were cut had been left in.
It certainly was nice to venture Into the Woods with Meryl Streep as The Witch, Emily Blunt as The Baker’s Wife, James Corden as The Baker, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince, Tracey Ullman as Jack’s Mother, Christine Baranski as Cinderella’s Stepmother, Johnny Depp as The Wolf, Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood
Daniel Huttlestone as Jack, MacKenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel, Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel’s Prince[, Tammy Blanchard as Florinda Lucy Punch as Lucinda, Annette Crosbie as Little Red Riding Hood’s Grandmother, Joanna Riding as Cinderella’s Mother, Frances de la Tour as the Giant‘s Wife, Richard Glover as the Steward and Simon Russell Beale as the Baker’s Father (who in the film credits at the end, presents a very good likeness of Stephen Sondheim.
Postscript: Stephen Sondheim is quite capable of writing original material for the cinema and has done so on occasion (Stavisky, Dick Tracy, The Last of Sheila). However, he is most at home and his personal preference is writing for the stage. While the two most recent film adaptations of his work (Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd) have transferred well to the screen, neither can provide you with the true experience of the originality and ingenuity of his work as well as seeing a live stage production of a Stephen Sondheim musical. If you only know of Stephen Sondheim from the movies you have seen, please go see a live performance if you get the opportunity.
© Henry Sachwald 2015