Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods in its Broadway debut, it seemed more a mere exercise for this great American composer than anything else -- with music that often reminded me of those Czerny books I studied from during my early piano lessons. Viewing other incarnations of the show over the years produced a similar result -- until, this past Christmas holiday season, when I saw the movie version in a local theater and was so blown away by its success that I have just finished viewing it again on Blu-ray -- this time with the English subtitles turned on so that I needn't miss a single savvy and savory rhyme from our modern master of the musical form.
Simon Russell Beale spouting a sledge-hammer line practically lit up in neon as, Listen folks: Here comes the moral. Its theater productions have been full of these, and yet as directed by Rob Marshall (at left), with its book rewritten over and over until he finally
James Lapine (shown at right), the finished product is something rapturous: beautiful, moving, funny, appealing, and performed to the hilt. I should think (hope, anyway) that Mr. Sondheim is beside himself with delight. The manner in which the various fairy tales used here (Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood, among others) no longer clunks as it did on stage; instead the tales blend and bounce off each other with glee and meaning. Further, the use of close-ups makes so many of the moments come to life in ways that the stage could not, while the actors on view could hardly have been better chosen -- for talent, looks and musical ability.
Johnny Depp (above) as the Wolf to the magical Meryl Streep (below), as the Witch,
James Corden and Emily Blunt (below) as the Baker and his wife,
Anna Kendrick (who simply gets better with each new role), as Cinderella, plus a fine pair of princes,
Chris Pine (below) and Billy Magnussen, this first-rate cast does the source material proud in every way. As do the production design, art direction and costumes. Visually, the movie is a complete knock-out.