So you know how the award-winning Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods is getting made into a feature length movie by Disney? And you know how people die and have sex with each other and then also die in that musical? Yeah, apparently you have less of that to look forward to in the film version. We’ll be talking specific plot details below, so head’s up for spoilers if you haven’t seen the show before.
The news comes straight from Sondheim himself, as reported by Playbill. During a Q and A with high school arts educators, one participant brought up the difficulty of staging productions with younger performers (you can always just stage the first act and leave the second one out, but let me tell you, that is not as fun for whoever gets to play the witch because she doesn’t really get good until the second act. Not that I have an intimate knowledge of what that feels like as a 16 year old theater camp attendee, nooo sir). Sondheim acknowledged that Disney is currently sharing these particular difficulties with their own production, and outlined a few of the changes made to the film.
First off, the thing everybody expected when it was announced that they’d cast an actual child actor, Lilla Crawford, to play Little Red Riding Hood (commonly the part goes to an adult actor): the wolf’s very innuendo-laden song, “Hello Little Girl,” is going to get toned down considerably. I don’t know about you guys, but that’s fine with me–Johnny Depp, who’s been tapped to play the wolf, isn’t exactly much of a singer anyway, and it’s not a song that necessarily influences anything else in the play’s story.
The other cuts that Sondheim mentions, though, have much more wide-reaching ramifications to the plot: the affair between Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine) and the Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt) is no more, and their song “Any Moment” is “probably” getting cut. Also, Rapunzel won’t die; instead that part of the story has been “replotted,” presumably to include the extra song Sondheim has written for Meryl Streep’s witch.
But what does Sondheim think about all these changes? “Censorship is part of our puritanical ethics, and it’s something that [students are] going to have to deal with,” he said in Playbill. “There has to be a point at which you don’t compromise anymore, but that may mean that you won’t get anyone to sell your painting or perform your musical.” So basically, Sondheim got to get paid, son. Fair enough. This wouldn’t be the first time movie versions of Sondheim musicals have been altered, anyway–remember how they left out literally the most important and well-known song of all of Sweeney Todd, “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” out of the film adaptation? And how they cut literally all of Johanna’s songs except one?
Anyway, it’s hard not to be upset by this news, but considering that Sondheim and book-writer James Lapine have both been heavily involved in the film’s production, I want to believe that they’ve found a way to make the changes work. Just as long as nothing happens to “The Last Midnight,” because that’s obviously the best song of the entire musical. Heck, I’m already worried about what’s going to happen to “The Witch’s Lament” with all this Rapunzel stuff. Do not cut Witch songs, friend. My fragile theater-kid heart will not be able to handle it.
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