Into the Woods / Import
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Based on a combination of Grimm's Fairy Tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and Rapunzel) the classic stories are woven together and combined with an original story about a childless baker and his wife and their efforts to remove a witch's spell.
The score is magnificent, and represents Stephen Sondheim at his very best, although those of us who are fans of Mr. Sondheim agree that - from West Side Story through Passion - every show he has touched has had its own magic. Stephen Sondheim is known as much for his deliciously witty, complicated lyrics, as for his rich, rewarding melodies. Judging from my initial listen to this soundtrack, the score is almost completely intact when compared to the stage version, unusual for a musical film. As he did with his masterpiece, Sweeney Todd, Mr. Sondheim has made some minor lyrical changes for the film which enhance rather than detract from the score.
Some will be upset at the omissions. Based on the Soundtrack, the following songs appear to have been deleted from the score:
I Guess This is Goodbye / Maybe They're Magic
Act II Prologue (So Happy)
Agony (Act II Reprise)
Plus the following songs have been replaced by instrumental versions:
Ever After (Instrumental)
No More (Instrumental)
I suppose if I had my preferences, I would restore the Act II reprise of Agony, just for my favorite laugh in the show ("Dwarves are very upsetting...."). The song "No More" never really clicked for me, but "Maybe They're Magic" proffered the witty line, "If the end is right, it justifies...the beans". I do regret the deletion of "The Witch's Lament" from the second act. Oh well, I would rather rejoice at what's been retained than bemoan the deletions.
The CD includes a complete libretto. The Soundtrack also includes a wealth of incidental music. Fully half an hour of the ninety-minute soundtrack is instrumental.
All in all, what remains of the score is extremely satisfactory. If you are a fan of the show, or even if you are unfamiliar with this work at all, I promise that the Soundtrack to INTO THE WOODS will make you believe in movie musicals again.
The cast is superb, a thrilling combination of stage legends, film legends and some new talent, every single character is clarified to the listener so that one easily understands and follows this brilliant plot. Every single actor surprises us on this recording. The two most surprising are Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt. But in every case, the cast is superlative.
The concept: What would happen if Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and The Beanstalk, Rapunzel all took place in the same woods, at the same timed with the same witch the same wolf and the same giqnt? To connect them all, Lapine has created two new characters, A Baker and his wife,. It is their wish that connects every other story and character and for the first hour of the recording we laugh, we are moved and our senses are stimulated. As for recounting the plot; not here. Please:not me.
It is foremost important to make sure everyone is aware that Meryl Streep is a classically trained singer and was a voice major at Vassar in the early 1970’s. We all recall how she lobbied for the role of Eva Peron in the disappointing film of “Evita.” That role went to Madonna and after hearing Streep sing “Stay With Me”, “Last Midnight” and “Children Will Listen “it is clear that her singing is among the best on the recording. Keep in mind we’ve heard Streep sing many times. “Postcards From The Edge” saw a beautiful rendition of “You Don’t Know Me.” Purists will forever have the voice and choices of Bernadette Peters who created the role in 1987. Streep has done nothing to replicate Peters’ performance while at the same time, not beating us over the head with it. The Witch is, without question, the only cast member who is not only good, but wise through experience. Other characters are “good” too, particularly Little Red Riding Hood, though her brassy, insistent attitude supplies much of the comedy as we are captured by the master work. Red Riding Hood’s singing voice is close to the painful; scream of little girls singing created by the musical “Annie” but falls just short of screaming, remaining in character and her handling of “I Know Things Now” is remarkable. Streep has chosen a spoken voice in the register of Contralto, so her spoken voice jumps from very low to a remarkable mezzo soprano when singing. We forgive this because the truth is that no one has portrayed The Witch with as much freshness, truth, and honesty. After listening to this twice, one could place it beside The Original Cast as a definitive recording, despite the missing songs and how the story has been cleaned up for a PG rating and the new instrumentals.
So this is a wonderful addition to an already very classic piece of theatre. It manages to get across the point of the story, though a little weakly (the missing “No More” is a desolate choice). The liner notes have missed the point entirely regarding the song “No One Is Alone.” It is not a song of comfort but rather a song of warning. “No one acts alone; careful! No one acts alone!” Our actions, the little things we do in each day, affect the people in our community. This is the point of “Into The Woods,” Lapine and Sondheim didn’t set out to say nothing at all. It is only through working together as a community that we will survive.
There was really only one or two moments on this recording when I felt slightly disappointed; all of them involved full company singing, when the lack of enunciation was very apparent. Singing Sondheim requires a great deal more percussive consonant than singing pop music or even Andrew Lloyd Weber. Sondheim’;s patter and complex lyrics wash over the audience but once; we must hear them. Not only this, but he selects his words for the purpose of effect; for Sondheim (and many singers) the consonants are percussion instruments. Likely because of vocal tracking in many studios (One of which was the world famous Abbey Road in London). Generally this fault would fall upon the musical director, in this case the legendary Paul Gemignani, who has directed and conducted every show and cast albums for every Sondheim musical since “Company” in 1969. Anyone familiar with his work knows full well that the diction problems with the full company here are not the fault of Gemignani. And truth be told, unless you’re a teacher of singing, a conductor or a theatre singer, you won’t mind. Each time I listen I accept it a bit more and it occurs only on the main theme with the full cast.
The counterpoint that begins with “Though it’s fearful, though it’s deep and it’s dark and though you may lose your path…” remains but not in counterpart, as though we’re too stupid or unsophisticated to handle the brilliant three part counterpart that exists in the original 1987 Recording and on the vocal score. Perhaps it suited the film better; we shall see. As I said, I write strictly on the recording.
If you are moved by this, I strongly recommend picking up the DVD of the Original Broadway Cast staring Bernadette Peters and the story will be clearer, more powerful and just as satisfying as this one. Far more honest. Far more dark. Far more true.