Twenty-four years ago, Bob, our son Paul and I went to see Into the Woods on Broadway at a matinee. That evening we went to see The Cherry Orchard at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Brian Dennehy was Lopakhin in this Peter Brooks production. It was one of those magical days and nights of theatre. We fell in love with Into the Woods. Bob and I are Stephen Sondheim fans. We saw Merrily We Roll Along three times when it was at Hubbard Hall. When they sang No One Is Alone on stage in Into the Woods, I felt the tears coming. Looking down the row, I saw Bob and Paul with tears on their cheeks as well.
When we saw the trailers for the film, we were eager to see it. Finally, it came to our local theatre and we were delighted. We saw it last night and I have been thinking about the differences between theatre and film ever since. It is a fine movie with an outstanding cast. Rob Marshall is a wonderful director of movie musicals. He did a great job with Chicago and he did a great job with Into The Woods. James Lapine, who wrote the original book, wrote the screenplay and it was faithful to the play. I cried again when they sang No One is Alone,
However, a certain magic was missing. When Jack sang There Are Giants in the Sky, he was climbing a tree in the movie. In the theatre, he came to the front of the stage and sang it. We focused on the tale he was telling us, not his climbing. Meryl Streep was great as the witch, but there were all the special effects as she twirled around appearing and disappearing whereas there was a simplicity to Bernadette Peters’ performance. As audience, we were the actors’ collaborators at the play. We used what they gave us to create our own magical worlds. There is some truth to less is more.
The film, however, makes it possible for more people to share the story and the wonderful music and lyrics that are Sondheim’s.
As I often do when seeing something of Sondheim’s I went to two of my favorite books which have the scripts and Sondheim’s notes about the productions. Look, I Made A Hat is the book that has the lyrics and his commentary on Into the Woods. He predicted that the play would be done over and over in schools and in community productions. He was right. On youtube there are innumerable videos of productions throughout the country. He also notes that Jim Henson wanted to make a movie of it in 1995 with his puppets as the animals. He had readings with two outstanding casts, but nothing came of it as a film until now. It is a film worth seeing. However, if a theatre near you is doing it, make sure to see a stage production as well.
No One Is Alone Film (The dialogue is mute in this clip, but you can hear the song.)