Based on the Brothers Grimm’s cautionary tales, James Lapine/Stephen Sondheim’s insightful, slyly comedic, 1987 Broadway musical has been cleverly mounted by Rob Marshall (“Chicago”). Dare I say it’s even better than the stage version? Why? Since Stephen Sondheim’s intricate music and tongue-twisting lyrics are extraordinarily demanding, on-stage, some inevitably get garbled. Whereas, on-screen, everything is crystal-clear. Read on…
The plot revolves around a sensitive, humble baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who yearn for a child. Years ago, the witch (Meryl Streep – flawless in a blue fright wig and yellow teeth) placed a curse on his family. The only way it can be broken is for them to go into the forest on a quest to find items she requires, including Red Riding Hood’s cape and Jack and the Beanstalk’s cow, Milky White.
Adapted by the musical’s original writer/director James Lapine and directed by Rob Marshall, the first half is a playful romp, a farce; then it gets serious, exploring what happens after ‘happily ever after.’ It’s all about making choices – moral decisions – the relationship of parents and children, and our responsibility for one another.
In these fractured fairy tales, heroes and heroines aren’t always what they seem. Dazzled by Prince Charming (Chris Pine), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) deliberately leaves her slipper behind. Then, when he finds her, she’s indecisive, poignantly warbling “On the Steps of the Palace.”
The encounter between bratty, shop-lifting Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and the lecherous Wolf (Johnny Depp) is fraught with double-entendres, while Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) faces her own dilemma when a Prince (Billy Magnussen) rescues her.
And it’s not surprising that Cinderella’s wicked stepmother (Christine Baranski) and step-sisters (Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch) bear a startling resemblance to the Kardashians.
The Princes’ duet “Agony” is hilarious – and there are glorious songs: “Children Will Listen,” “Last Midnight,” “Stay With Me,” “Giants in the Sky” and “No One Is Alone,” among others.
As the final reprise of the title song observes: “The way is dark/The light is dim/But now there’s you/Me, her and him,” as a new family forms.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Into the Woods” is an enchanting, tuneful 10. Do what the witch says: “Go to the wood!”