The critically acclaimed musical Into the Woods has finally been adapted into a film! All of the usual concerns you might have about the Hollywood film industry destroying the integrity of decent productions can be safely assuaged; it’s by no means perfect, but it’s a very enjoyable adaptation! The music and lyrics were written by Stephen Sondheim (he also did Sweeney Todd and lots of other great musicals!), and the script by James Lepine. Lepine was also the man who adapted it into a screenplay, and it’s definitely comforting to know that someone involved in the original creative process took the musical to film.
Both the story and the music are fantastic. The plot subverts lots of your original expectations of the fairy-tale genre and exploits its comic potential for a modern audience really well. Expect converging plot lines and lots of technically sophisticated music. Other critics have commented that the themes and morals coming through in the film are too didactic, but I certainly didn’t get that sense when I watched it. In many stories, the woods are a place where the normal rules of society are overturned, and the musical does a great job of exploring that theme in an engaging and enjoyable way.
Notable performances included Chris Pine’s hilarious portrayal of Prince Charming – his duet with Billy Magnussen, ‘Agony’, made many of the audience laugh out loud. Anna Kendrick’s vocals, especially her range, were rather impressive, and Meryl Streep’s entire performance as the witch was amazing. She’s now been nominated for (another!) Oscar and I think she is deserving of it, especially for her performance in ‘Last Midnight’. What is particularly great about this musical is that the characters are thoroughly drawn with a wide emotional range, something which has often been criticised as lacking in this genre. Into the Woods certainly silences that impression, and it means that the stellar cast can be put to good use!
There are, however, some notable changes to the original musical, including the omission of several characters and songs. This will be a bit disappointing to lovers of the original musical, but I suppose there had to be some changes in order to shorten it from three hours’ long! Additionally, there were some very occasional dud notes, but they were not so noticeable as to detract from the general high standard of the singing.
So get straight down to see it, especially if you’re in third year and the stress is piling on. Musical theatre is always the best remedy!