Saturday, January 10, 2015

ON BROADWAY: Mel's Love Affair with 'Into The Woods'

Hey, guys! It's officially 2015! January is typically a slow month in the music business so my goal was to take this time to catch back up and cover the ground I lost over the holidays. You'll notice we have a brand new layout which is still in the process of being tweaked. Let me know in the comments what you think! You also *might* notice we have a brand new topic of discussion on the top nav -- Broadway.

If you follow any of my social accounts (including Instagram -- @melismaticdiva), you might already be aware that I like to take as much of an advantage as possible when it comes to living in New York City. That means going to as many Broadway and Off-Broadway shows as possible. Last year, I was privileged enough to see a whole lot, including quite a few that will soon be closing (January-February is a common time for shows to close and make way for new shows to come in). December was particularly meaningful because it marked the return of my other favorite musical of all time -- Into The Woods -- not just to the Broadway stages, but to the silver screen. 

Into The Woods, for those of you who aren't familiar, is a musical adaptation of all of your favorite Grimm fairy tales with the characters paths intertwining in the woods. The music and lyrics are by one of America's modern day musical geniuses -- Mr. Stephen Sondheim (who also brought us Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Sunday In The Park With George, and also worked in tandem with Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story -- my other favorite musical). Although quite dark overall, the feel is evened out by a healthy dollop of dry, sarcastic humor (usually supplied by The Witch and Little Red Riding Hood) and a myriad of quotable, inspirational lyrics.

My connection to this show is lifelong so to finally see the fruit of that obsession at my local movie theater would inevitably an event for the ages (and it was). 

The show first debuted on Broadway in 1987. For those of you still keeping up, that was the year I was born. It played at the Martin Beck Theatre on 45th Street (which first opened in the 20's) and has since been re-named to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, the current home of Kinky Boots. The original production starred a familiar muse of Sondheim's, the incomparable Bernadette Peters as the show's main "antagonist", The Witch. It was nominated for the "Best Musical" title at the 1988 Tony's Awards and probably would have won, too, if it weren't for a pesky little show called The Phantom of the Opera. The show was "revived" for one night only in 1997 with much of the original cast in honor of its 10th anniversary. It returned to Broadway in 2002 with Vanessa Williams as The Witch. In 2012, it was revived again with the likes of Amy Adams, Donna Murphy, Dennis O'Hare, and Jessie Mueller (now on Broadway in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical) at the Public Theatre in Central Park for a limited run.

The original cast recently reunited in a carefully planned promotional move for the film adaptation this past November.

While I've always been a lifelong theater nerd, Into The Woods in particular is something I can actually date back to my very early childhood. The show itself really is quite dark and is not really intended for small children (no matter what Disney tries to tell you), but I do recall being five or six years old and becoming strangely obsessed. Why? My babysitter and her husband were both in a local production of the show (she played Little Red's Granny, he played the Narrator...I believe) and I and my babysitter's daughter (who was my same age) would regularly re-enact pieces of the show for our own amusement. Our scene of choice? When Cinderella's Step-Mother forces Florinda and Lucinda to try on Cinderella's lost (gold) slipper. Because the slipper is too small for either girl, the mother decides cut off their respective toe and heel so the shoe will fit.

As I grew older and my love affair with Broadway blossomed to full bloom after seeing my first show in New York City (also with Bernadette Peters) via Annie Get Your Gun, I acquired a DVD version of the original cast's Broadway performance (the show was filmed in 1988 and was actually broadcast on television in the early 90's -- we had a version taped from its cable broadcast, inevitably how my neighbor friend and I learned the "Cut Off Your Toe" scene verbatim). By high school, I could quote the entire show in order (and still can). 

In college, my school's theater company put on their own version of it and that was when we began hearing swirls and rumors that the show was actually on track to be made into a big budget film. These rumors weren't exactly new news -- back when the show was still in its original run on Broadway, there was talk of a potential film version with Cher as The Witch! 

The film was green-lit in 2012 but finalized casting choices -- which included Meryl Streep as The Witch and Johnny Depp as The Wolf -- would come later.

Not long after the officially released date of Christmas Day 2014 was announced, I heard the news that the show would also be produced Off-Broadway. This fresh revival would mimic some of the creative choices from the Public Theatre run in 2012 and began previews in December (I saw its first night! -- see photo above) and will officially open this week at the Roundabout Theatre on 46th Street (not far from where the original first sprouted up!).

While any version of this show will be beloved by yours truly, let's chat about the film version.

Let me get the nerdy bit out of the way: there are a lot of changes from the original to the film but that was to be expected. The show itself is much longer; a lot of things need to be cut for this to be packaged up as a film (and the film itself is quite long!). One of the most emotional songs of the show-- "No More" -- which sees the Baker speaking with his presumed dead father, The Mysterious Man, was inevitably cut (and seeing it on stage always makes me cry). It being omitted was probably the biggest change but the one that made the most sense. In the film, The Mysterious Man role is basically omitted completely whereas in the stage adaptation, he has a fairly large role -- serving as an unwitting conscience for The Baker, the main protagonist. Also, the three major deaths that happen in the Second Act back to back to back are softened up considerably or don't happen at all.

Overall, the film itself took on a difficult feat of fitting so much into a two hour package. A lot of the dry humor that lives in the spoken lines and the lyrics of the stage production gets lost in the shuffle in the film version. Also, for many of the characters, you're expected to just love them at face value in the film, whereas on stage you grow to love them despite their obvious and blatant faults.

The singing in the film is something to be commended -- and that's coming from someone who was definitely fearing the worst. I had no worries for Meryl or Anna Kendrick (who played Cinderella, albeit a bit stoically to my utter chagrin), but Emily Blunt (The Baker's Wife) was stellar, the beautiful Chris Pine (Cinderella's Prince) seriously knocked it out of the park as the wayward, narcissistic prince, and Lilla Crawford (Little Red Riding Hood) and Daniel Huttlestone (Jack) were shining standouts despite their young ages.

I certainly had my complaints -- but as such a fan of the original, I knew I would, and I tried my hardest to keep an open mind and not compare it to the original cast -- but the final product was still a beautiful thing if only for the fact that it (re-)introduced the world to my favorite musical.

To those of you who didn't know the show prior to the film and enjoyed it, I highly suggest you get your hands on a copy of the original cast's performance so you can see the nuances in the humor in their full glory. Or, if you're in the NYC area, go see a live performance of Into The Woods at the Roundabout Theatre. You won't be disappointed!

No comments:

Follow Me on Instagram via @melismaticdiva