Into the Woods (movie)
January 2, 2015
I brag about one thing I’ve done more than any other. More than being a bestselling author, more than hanging out with George R.R. Martin. The thing I brag about most: getting to see the original production of Into the Woods on Broadway with Bernadette Peters. This musical is becoming one of the great classics, and Peters’ basically owns the role of the Witch. I feel like, just by being an observer, I’m a participant in a classic moment of American theater. I imagine it being like seeing Ethel Merman play Annie Oakley or Robert Preston as Howard Hill. It was pure luck that I was there, but I’m incredibly happy about it nonetheless.
So you can imagine that I approached the movie with a great deal of trepidation. I had the perfect Into the Woods experience once. That would never happen again. Why was I even here?
Turns out, I didn’t need to be worried. The open song made me cry, just like it always does, because it’s perfect and beautiful and one of the most high-energy openings in any musical anywhere. The entire first act is just about perfect, really. Great singing, great story, great cast. Loved it. “Agony” is worth the price of admission all by itself. (And not just because for a split second you see Chris Pine singing it, and think, “Captain Kirk is singing this!” and it’s so very appropriate…)
Unfortunately, the bliss was not to last because the filmmakers took a bit of a machete to the second act, much to the detriment of the play’s very rich themes and meanings. I’m very curious — how did the movie go over for someone who doesn’t know the stage version like the back of their hand? Because yeah, I know this show, and I missed what was missing.
SPOILERS: Just a brief discussion of what was cut. I know everyone’s mourning the loss of “Agony (Reprise),” which is one of the cattiest, most brilliant bits of story ever, and I would have just adored seeing Pine and Magnussen chew the scenery with it. But the song I missed most was “So Happy.” This is the start of the second act, and it resets all the characters with their “new normal.” It lets us all catch our breaths after the manic energy at the end of act one. But more than that it shows us a) what our characters have to lose now, and b) that not everything is perfect after all. By skipping that, the second act arrives abruptly with the Giant’s Wife smashing everything, and it feels like it’s come out of left field. And then there’s Rapunzel, who actually apparently gets a happily ever after in this version when none of the other characters do, which doesn’t feel right at all. This made the whole second act kind of a big “WUT?”
Anyway. The singing and music and acting was all just fine. Go for the music. Go for “Agony.” And then go look up the PBS American Playhouse video of the original Broadway production. Because Bernadette Peters.