The Christmas insanity is over for now, and so I finally got to do something just for me-and that was go see Into the Woods. This musical holds a special place in my heart. I was a huge drama geek in high school, and this was the first musical I ever performed in. (I was the Wicked Stepmother.) So, I know all the words to the songs by heart and I have strong opinions on whether or not anyone could ever be better than Bernadette Peters as the witch. I went in hoping to be pleased but a tiny bit worried that it might disappoint.
If you are wholly unfamiliar with the show, let me briefly explain what it is about and why the story is so fascinating.
Into the Woods follows the fairytale characters we have known all of our lives- Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and his beanstalk, Rapunzel, and a baker and his wife who have been cursed by an evil witch because of the misdeeds of the baker's father.
All of the characters have complicated or downright horrible relationships with their parents or guardians. They all have wishes for their future- to escape the sorrow they currently live in and find happiness. And each of them begins their quest for that happiness in the same way that we expect them to- the way their fairytales tell us that it lies. Cinderella is supposed to live happily ever after with her prince. The baker and his wife lift the curse and break the spell- allowing them to finally have a child. Red Riding Hood learns to protect herself and not trust strangers, and Jack proves his worth to his critical mother by conquering a giant and bringing riches to his family. Rapunzel also meets her true love and believes that love is all she will need.
And then? Well...that's the problem with fairytales. They all seem to end there. But what happens when that is your life? Often princes are just charming and not loyal or caring husbands. And pestering giants may make you feel pretty invincible but it's awfully risky behavior. Likewise, walling yourself off from others as Red does, leaves you without a way to connect with someone when you find yourself alone. And fatherhood may trigger all of your fears that you might repeat the mistakes of your own parents. In fact, all of the characters are trying to come to terms with their childhoods and find a path to true happiness, but like many of us, they typically just try to get the opposite of what they had before, only to find that its just as bad as what they left.
So, the musical is wonderfully complex and deep. And I was completely smitten all over again. Anna Kendrick has an amazing voice, and Emily Blunt was wonderful as the Baker's wife. And no, I don't think Meryl Streep is better than Bernadette Peters, but it wasn't so changed that I didn't enjoy it. The difference in their performances is that Streep's character comes off as a bit more sympathetic somehow...less willfully malicious.
I am disappointed that we lost the song No More, and that we lost the reprise of Agony. (Especially when Chris Pine was SO perfect as Prince Charming- why get rid of a second of all of that smarmy goodness?) And they changed the fate of Rapunzel by simply omitting the fact of her death- which I find to be a toss-up. On the one hand, that part always tore me up- she was the most tormented by her mother and then she suffered the worst fate. So unfair! But it also showed just how badly you can hurt your children if you don't learn these lessons. It was harsh but also very fitting for the story.
But, overall, the omissions aside, I still loved this. And the core moral of the story is there and accessible to the viewer. I teared up when they sang No One Is Alone.
Would I prefer the stage show to the movie? Sure. I probably always will. But this is still a treat for fans of the musical and it opens the story and the valuable lessons inside to more people in this format. So it gets a big thumbs-up from me.