Key shift makes ‘Into the Woods’ significant
Some years ago, movie buffs were heartened by the revival of the animated feature and the movie musical, film types that inexplicably fell into disfavor decades ago.
Despite their resurgence, however, film musicals aren’t produced as often as they should be, so we make it a point to patronize them.
This month, the new musical film on view is the movie version of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods.”
Expectedly, Sondheim’s songs for “Into the Woods” are creditable and even memorable additions to his oeuvre, but the best thing about the musical’s material is Lapine’s inspired ability to cleverly weave a new show out of the plots of some classic fairy tales.
Lapine’s reworked scenario has a baker and his wife convincing a witch (Meryl Streep) to lift the curse she’s cast on their family, which has prevented them from having a child.
To do so, they have to produce ingredients for a magic concoction that includes objects that only the classic fairy tale protagonists can contribute.
This clever device enables the baker and his wife to interact with all of those other characters, and the result is a creative fusion that makes the musical truly special and choice.
Another major plus point is the show’s determined effort to rework the traditional musical into a less fantastic and escapist show that enables viewers to relate it to their own reality.
This is a key shift that makes “Into the Woods” more relevant and significant than other new works, and makes watching it exciting.
Most musicals tend to be too rigidly upbeat and inspirational to be believed, while this one dares to ask questions that can’t be easily answered with an unequivocal yes or no.
In addition, some of its heroic characters turn out to be less than true-blue—Cinderella’s Prince Charming included! “Into the Woods” is still a show for children, but they should be kids of the questioning kind.
Nowhere is this key shift more evident than in the production’s treatment of the Witch’s character. Played to sour and even rancid perfection by Meryl Streep, she is more than just the usual scarifying vixen from hell, she’s a three-dimensional character who has occasional flashes and twinges of goodness!
—An evil witch who’s sometimes vulnerable and can even be wounded to her very core? Only Streep can pull the complicated and even occasionally contradictory assignment off, which is why her portrayal ends up as the musical’s best suit!
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