Into the Woods: Witches can be right

Into the Woods:
Witches can be right

Written by dorrk
12 November 2014

"Into the Woods" may need a 2nd chance.

I'm a huge fan of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, which is coming out as a major movie event this December. I have my doubts about this movie version — most notably how the first trailer tried to hide the fact that it's a musical — but  I recently came across a review I wrote 20+ years ago after first seeing the stage version. I didn't like it for the exact same reason I now find it quite brilliant. If you're open to musicals, it's one that may require a 2nd viewing.

The conceit of Into the Woods is that Sondheim and playwright James Lapine take several classic fairy tales, intertwine them, and examine the lessons and moral dilemmas that arise after their traditional endings.

My initial objection to the play was that the first act is so fun and successful at wrapping up the original story arcs with a rousing "Happy after after!" exclamation, that the substantive, introspective second act felt like a rude system shock smothering a piece of chocolate in bitter medicine. I was so caught up in the craft of the first act, that I was closed off to the purpose of the entire play.

However, a few years later, when I revisited the Original Cast Recording, I was braced for this shift and was therefore able to appreciate how incredibly well realized and executed it all is. Now, when I listen to the soundtrack and watch the video production of the Broadway stage version with Bernadette Peters and Chip Zien, many of my favorite moments occur during the morally challenging conclusion.

I have no doubt that movie audiences are going to have a similar initial reaction this winter, unless director Rob Marshall manages an ingenious re-write. If this new movie version turns out to be worthy of the stage production, you still may need to see it twice before you'll like it.


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