It's taken a long time for this stage musical to make it to the big screen, and while director Rob Marshall once again fails to give the story a sharp focus (see also Chicago and Nine), he at least lets the music and characters shine. Originally staged on Broadway in 1987, this musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine is a gleeful mash-up of fairy tales that continues on past the "happily ever after", eventually turning rather dark and emotional.
Once upon a time, there was a Baker and his Wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) who learn that they can't have children because the Witch (Meryl Streep) next door has cursed them. She offers to break the spell if they collect a cow, a cape, a slipper and a lock of hair. Meanwhile, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) annoys his mother (Tracey Ullman) by selling the family cow for a handful of "magic" beans; Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) dodges a leery Wolf (Johnny Depp) following her through the woods; Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) sneaks to the festival to meet the Prince (Chris Pine) against the wishes of her nasty stepmum (Christine Baranski); and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) defies her mother by letting her hair down for a Prince (Billy Magnussen). After knotting together, each plot strand resolves happily. Until the next day.
This is very much a story of two halves, with the sharp, snappy, hilarious first act contrasting strongly against the rather disturbingly grim and grisly second act, as everyone's story unravels to reveal each character's deep neediness. What makes this show so clever is the way it undermines the usual fairy-tale happiness of most stories, cautioning that this artifice is actually a problem for children. While the songs are all clever and thoroughly engaging, none of them is particularly hummable on first listen, but each is packed with witty wordplay and serious subtext that gets under the skin.
Continue reading: Into The Woods Review