This was originally written on May 7, 2014. I’m posting it because I finally saw the film version.
The version of Into the Woods on Netflix is a recorded version of the 1987 original Broadway production cast that was dated 1990. This did not at all displease me because I love the theater. Seeing a story being told on stage is different than seeing one told on film. The energy is palpable and you can connect more with the performances. The fact that some one just filmed it doesn’t change that. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Legally Blonde musical when MTV ran its recorded stage version a few years ago. Into the Woods was a play with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and the book by James Lapine. It won the 1988 Tony for Best Book and Best Original Score and they were deserved.
The story goes in Act One, the Baker and his wife wish for a child, Cinderella wishes to go to the royal ball, and Jack must sell his best friend, the cow Milky White, so his mother and he can eat. A mysterious witch meets the baker and says for 4 items she can lift the curse on the Baker’s house and they may have a child. The four items are:
- A red cloak
- A cow white as milk
- Hair yellow as corn
- A slipper like gold
Now the baker and his wife go off to search for the items and only have 3 days. They run into familiar characters from fairy tales we all grew up with: Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella’s Stepmother, Jack who climbs a bean stock, and even Rapunzel. By the end of the first act, all the people who were pure got their happy endings: the baker and his wife are going to have a child and Cinderella marries her prince. Even the witch gets her comeuppance by wishing for beauty back and in turn loses her powers. This is where things get interesting.
In Act Two, our characters are in their new lives, happy but still wishing. They are back in the woods again because of a roaming giant in their kingdom. The thing I love about this musical because it shows the consequences of these people’s wishes. The giant comes because of Jack’s actions of stealing, of the Baker giving him the beans, of the witch having the beans in the first place. The blame can go around and around but they have to move forward in their consequences. It’s refreshing because as adults we know this and it is the correct response to these stories. I always wondered what happened after the happily and we learn in this version, that nothing good happened. Yet, what I truly love is that the characters have organic growth and learn new things. That is the true measure of a story, do the characters change and this one does that.
I thoroughly enjoyed this show because this is what I want for fairy tales for adults, I want for the shine we have as kids to wear off. It is interesting because while this debuted in 1987, the urge to retell fairy tales hasn’t died down. We have Grimm and Once Upon a Time that tell weekly hour-long stories about the “people” behind the characters. The graphic novel series Fables is a big hit, and currently in production is a film version of this very musical. Now I have never seen Grimm and Fables Vol. 1 is literally sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read so I can’t comment on those. Yet, I have seen Once Upon a Time and let me say this, if that show could be a third as smart as Into the Woods, we would be so lucky. That show lacks the desire to prove fairy tales wrong. I think that in order to circumvent the tropes in these Grimm’s stories, you have to actively dislike them.
On a different note, with the film version coming out on Christmas, I am actually a bit angry that it is getting made. I don’t question the entire cast, because Meryl can do no wrong and some of the actors in it have stage experience, but will the energy of this stage production carry over to the film? Only time will tell. It is important that the film is written by James Lapine and directed by Rob Marshall, who made Chicago. Only time will tell and if it’s not good, we still have this version.
FAVORITE CHARACTER: I want to say the Witch but actually, the Baker’s wife is amazing. All the ladies are my favorite but this is not a new phenomenon in my life.
FAVORITE SONG: Last Midnight but all of them are great!
MUSICAL ON NETFLIX I HAVE SEEN BUT YOU SHOULD WATCH: The Pirates of Penance: The 1983 version of this musical has Kevin Kline, Angela Lansbury and really catchy songs. It’s a delight.
UP NEXT: We are going into the classic film vault with the 1953 film directed by Howard Hawks Gentlemen Prefer Blondes