Sunday, January 11, 2015

Hollywood vs. Broadway- Into The Woods


A week before I saw "Into the Woods," I revisited the Broadway version I'd become accustomed to... not just to refresh my memory, but also so I can argue both sides effectively.
I also mentioned in my theatrical review
that the show was our high school musical... and still hadn't lived down the fact I didn't get cast.
But aside from revisiting my case of sour grapes, I will take our production into account as well in my discussion.

Differences: Stage to Screen

Spoilers for those who hadn't seen either
For the most part, the movie was a streamlined version of the play. Several subplots, most of which took place in Act 2, were removed.
The most notable: the reprise of "Agony" where the Princes discover Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and move onto their next conquests.

For the most part, this was a positive in my view. Doing the same song again with some new verses just would have been repetitive. Not to mention there was no way they'd be able to top "Agony" the first time... where Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen were, to parphase a movie quote, "frolicking in the [water] and shit"... puffing out theirs chests, ripping open their shirts... again, we need a Razzie for that scene. Hilarious for all the wrong reasons.

Another positive: we eliminated the death of Rapunzel. The last time we see her, she runs away with her Prince, choosing him over The Witch. I also thought the subplot was ridiculous where she bore twins... unlike with the Baker and his wife, that was just a detail that didn't add anything to the overall plot.

The lone negative, as I made clear in my review, was that the focus fell squarely on Cinderella's Prince cheating and painted him in a pretty horrible light.

The most obvious difference between the two was that Act 2 were severely edited in the film, which helped with the overall runtime, but made some of the action and drama feel rushed.

Two characters were "eliminated," who were coincidentally played by the same guy, the narrator and the mysterious man.
Fans of the play know The Mysterious Man was later revealed as The Baker's father. His father appeared in the film in one scene as a ghost. Some might dismiss it as a Deus ex machine- meaning a plot device randomly thrown in to resolve an otherwise unsolvable dilemma.

And we still had a narrator, but not in a corporeal state-- meaning we wouldn't see one of my favorite scenes from the play-- where all the characters turn on the narrator and feed him to the giant.

Maybe I just enjoy that scene because it was an equally hilarious moment in our high school production. Michael was the perfect casting choice for that role.

A couple of songs were cut- for better or worse.
I kinda missed "No More," which we only heard in the musical score after The Baker confronts his father's ghost. I still remember Ms. Cloak, our choir teacher, drawing attention to the fact the Broadway actor was flat on the final note of the song.

One big difference I noticed: the movie was the first time the role of Jack was played by a young boy. In the wake of NBC's "Peter Pan live" I found out young roles were given to people vastly older due to old child labor laws... which would explain why I'd only seen Jack played by a man in his teens or 20's.
It makes the circumstances of his character hilarious and sad... depending on how you look at it... seeing an older young man rebelling against his mother :P Had it been a modern take on the tale, he'd also been living in her basement... but in a modern take, there'd be no need for The Woods, would there?


The meat of my entry will focus on this... mainly because the players in a show are where my general focus is. Just as I'd only begun to note directors, producers and composers over the past 3-4 years.

The Witch

Bernadette Peters vs. Meryl Streep

I knew this one would be tough for me to address going into the movie.
To her credit, Meryl Streep brought her own je ne sais qua to this role and made it her own. Thanks to special effects, The Witch does a better job of appearing randomly on the scene, scaring the bejeezus out of the characters... she appears as suddenly as the disappears and it's the perfect combination of terror and comedy. Her rendition of "Stay with me" was also very heartfelt and sympathy is better able to manifest... if only for a split second.

However, Bernadette Peters is still QUEEN at this role she originated on Broadway. Heck, The Witch was my favorite part of the play. As sinister as she is, she has a wicked (no pun intended) scene of comedic timing. She also handled both version of her role with equal care.
I didn't get that with Meryl Streep's version. Whatever appeal she had as this character vanished after the "youthful transformation" at the end of Act 1.
The explanation of The Witch's demise after "The Last Midnight" was better in the movie, but otherwise, Bernadette Peters did the song MUCH better. Her tongue laced with sarcasm and irony, she made every lyric and note mean something.

Sarah, the actress who played her in our musical, did really well around. When I heard she was cast, it wasn't a surprise. Her voice was strong and she played a good villain. And still managed to bring the necessary sarcasm and made both versions of the role count. Although I'm pretty sure she did the "younger" version better.

The Baker's Wife
Joanna Gleason vs. Emily Blunt

Both actresses nailed their role from different angles. Joanna Gleason gave such a great comedic performance, an act hard for anyone to follow (the fact she won a Tony for this is not a surprise).
Yet Emily Blunt made it work for me. She gave this character passion and humanity, making her untimely death all the more upsetting. And her ghost's appearance at the end of the movie all the more bittersweet.

The Baker

Chip Zien vs. Richard Corden

In this case, I have to give it to the originator. Richard Corden's "stage" presence felt subservient to all the strong female leads. With the omission of "No More," that emotional pay-off never happened in the movie. The only place where he comes out on top, thinking again of Ms. Cloak, was vocally. His voice was stronger than Chip's.

Now that I think about it, I might dare to say my friend Drew played The Baker better than both of those guys combined :P that's not entirely favoritism, he really did the role well. He certainly had the perfect vocal range and held his own on stage.


Kim Crosby vs. Anna Kendrick

The "transformation" from rags to ball gowns was more awe-inspiring in the play... namely because Cinderella wore glasses at her father's home and mysteriously got granted contacts for the remainder of the show.
Anna Kendrick's beauty was always apparent. She just needed to get cleaned up and have something nice to wear to the festival.

Overall, I have to give the win to Anna Kendrick. This was a role that felt like she was born to play it... which leads me to wonder why she didn't get the Golden Globe nomination over Emily Blunt.
She brought all the right emotions, making us get on her side immediately. The scene where she's mourning the destruction of her mother's gravesite, I felt something when she did it. Some of this was thanks to script rewrites.
The omission of the line "all my dreams have just been crushed" was a huge improvement because I felt, even for a dramatic scene, it was overly dramatic to the point of being cliché.

Actually, a lot of the script changes were ones that benefitted Cinderella. Like when she's talking to the birds and they tell her, supposedly, about the Prince cheating. Instead of saying "I don't care!" she says "that doesn't matter now." It makes her character less passive.

The Wolf
Robert Westenberg vs. Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp more or less wins by default... because it's freaking Johnny Depp.
The changes to the script, detracting from the pedophilia innuendos, came in his favor.
Plus, with his vocals, he made us almost wish his character didn't get killed... even though we all knew it was coming.
Little Red Riding Hood
Danielle Ferland vs. Lilla Crawford

I guarantee if Sophia Grace were here, I'd be giving the win to the Broadway actress.
But since she isn't here, I have to give props to both of the girls.

In the original, this character was feisty and so full of sarcasm that she got a lot of laughs from the audience. She was so good I was afraid, like with The Witch, I had my fears that some would be lost in the translation.
But Lilla brought the feistiness I expected and then some. The only thing missing was the laugh that came with her reaction to Cinderella- "you can talk to birds?" Wasn't quite as funny in the movie as it was in the play.


We're more or less comparing apples and oranges at this point. Per my math, I have a tie between the two versions. I certainly watch both multiple times, although not as often with the Broadway version (because that extra half hour makes it feel like three). For nostalgia's sake, I think I still prefer Broadway.

Per my records, that's 2 for Broadway and 0 for Hollywood so far.

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