Sunday, December 14, 2014


Nail-biting anticipation accompanied this album. Many musical theatre fans have listened to the original Broadway cast recording of Into the Woods countless times, myself included. And we all know that movie soundtracks have a reputation for being over-produced, flat, commercial, boring, and lifeless. Would Sondheim's masterful score meet a similar fate?

Not so, I say with a sigh of relief and a cheer of happiness. This brand new movie soundtrack of Into the Woods holds up.

Sondheim's music is seriously hefty and alive in the hands of a full movie orchestra. It has never sounded so full, so exciting, particularly with Jonathan Tunick's epic orchestrations. It simply sweeps you up. And from the opening bars of the Prologue, you know this score is in good hands with the all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, and many more. Not many among them are people you'd call a 'singer', but they are exactly what Sondheim's score demands: Actors who can sing. The focus here is on acting the material, and on those grounds, there is not one weak link in the company. In fact, they are all considerably strong. They carry Sondheim's dextrous, rapid-fire lyrics and winding melodies with aplomb that suggests seasoned experience with the material.

I think Meryl Streep would have been cast as The Witch in anyone's fantasy movie casting, and here she is, breathing new and fascinating life into a complex and challenging role. Audiences will be tempted to compare her to Bernadette Peters, of course, but the second Meryl appears we completely forget about that anyway. Streep's Witch is such a difference from Peters' that it's like comparing apples to oranges, so we just get to take in Streep's work for what it is. And it really is stunning, particularly on the gutting Stay With Me, which is also one of the best songs in the score. Streep wrings it all out of every word, every note, exploring anger and hurt and sadness, laying bare a song that is lump-in-your-throat poignant.

Other strong members of the ensemble cast include Anna Kendrick's Cinderella, who's bright trilling soprano perfectly fits the 'Disney Princess' mould and sounds fantastic in On the Steps of the Palace. Emily Blunt as the Baker's Wife makes a meal out of the highlight Moments in the Woods, and young Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood sports a powerful young instrument that does specific and accomplished work on the difficult I Know Things Now. And  No One is Alone here has no less power to move the listener to tears.

Fans of the musical may miss notable omissions in the score, in particular songs like the Act One Finale Ever After, which has been reduced to an instrumental, and the poignant and haunting No More. These omissions, however, are justifiable and forgivable given the needs of the movie itself. They are dearly missed, but we can always return to the Broadway cast recording for our fix of those missing songs.

I could go on, but I can just sum it up by saying how overjoyed I am that Into the Woods has been giving such careful, loyal, loving, deep treatment on this movie soundtrack. It will introduce Sondheim's glorious score to a huge wide audience, and done in a way that doesn't destroy or deflate the material. This is a more than worthy addition to the existing collection of Into the Woods recordings and a great companion to what sounds like a terrific and landmark movie musical.

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