Have you ever heard the saying, “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it”? It’s a fitting maxim for the new Disneyfied version of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods.” Of course, it is one of the themes of the show, but on another level, for the people who have long hoped to see a screen adaptation of the legendary musical, it may not be a situation of wish fulfillment.
Fans of the stage show will notice a few liberties have been taken with the show’s book. The changes are slight—for instance, the prince does not sleep with the Baker’s Wife, although they do have an encounter—but purists may feel like their beanstalk has been shaken a bit too much.
Casual fans of big screen musical theatre, however, will find a handsomely mounted reworking of the popular show, filled with the stuff of fairy tales: beautiful princesses, handsome but dimwitted princes, witches and even a giant or two.
The story is broken into two halves, a sunnier and irreverent “Once Upon a Time” first half that introduces the Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt), a couple unable to have children because of a Witch’s (Meryl Streep) curse. The old crone agrees to undo the spell if the pair supply her with four items, a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood; hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold.
Their search takes them into the woods and in collision (and later in collusion) with Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), later of Beanstalk fame, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) after the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) has swallowed her whole, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick).
The second half, the darker side of the fairy tale world, begins where the happily ever after part usually sits. When a female giant comes to the woods looking for Jack, the boy who killed her husband, the story takes a turn, teaching a lesson about wish fulfillment and responsibility for our actions.
“Into the Woods” has more to do with the original Grimm Brother Fairy Tales—the ones where evil stepmothers sawed the toes off their daughters to fit into golden slippers—than anything Disney has ever attempted before. The stereotypes are all present and accounted for, but under the prince’s brocade jackets or the Witch’s wild mauve wig, are complex characters that veer from comedic to serious to poignant, often in the same scene.
The cast is comprised of actors who can sing, warbling to Sondheim’s rich score. Standouts include “Agony,” an amusing duet between the two princes (Billy Magnussen and Chris Pine) and the Witch’s swansong “Last Midnight.”
On the downside, it feels a bit overlong and the Big Bad Wolf scene could have been renamed the Huge Unctuous Wolf, given Depp’s oily interpretation of the character.
“Into the Woods” survives the script meddling through strong staging, good performances and sheer wish fulfillment to make end up at it’s own kind of happily ever after.
I learned a great deal during my interview with Mackenzie Mauzy and Billy Magnussen. The Manhattan based performers brought me up to speed on the rite of passage for all New York actors, Rapunzel’s hair and whether or not Meryl Streep likes men in blue tights.
The pair play Rapunzel and Rapunzel’s Prince in the big screen adaptation of the legendary Broadway musical Into the Woods. The two relative new comers—she’s best known as Abigail on Forever while he made a memorable appearance on Boardwalk Empire and will soon be seen in an upcoming Steven Spielberg spy thriller—help bring fairy tales to life as part of a large ensemble that includes Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep.
Which leads me to the first thing I learned during our chat.
“Meryl’s a beast,” says Magnussen. “She’s the one who got me the job. I was in a play and she saw it and recommended to me [director] Rob [Marshall] and [producer] Mark Platt. The play was Vonya and Sonia and Marsha and Spike and I dress up as a prince because we’re going to a costume party. It’s all about the blue tights.”
“Meryl likes the blue tights,” laughs Mauzy.
Next I discovered the wig Mauzy wears in the film put her at a follicular risk.
“They used my hair and braided it into the extensions,” she says. “It was thirty feet long so I wrapped it around my arm. I had a little fake one for rehearsal but I asked to actually wear [the real one] one day so I could figure out how to be mobile. It’s a tripping hazard! We joke about how I had a really strong left bicep for a couple months.”
Then Magnussen enlightened me on a rite of passage for New York actors, “Once you get on Law and Order,” he says, “you’re really an actor.” Both have done time in the L&O trenches. Mauzy played a child killer named Carly Di Gravia—“It’s weird I remember that name,” she says.—while Magnussen says, “It was one of my first jobs. They bleached my hair white and I was a Southern male prostitute. How do you tell your mom? Hey watch this!”
Finally, one I gleaned one last pearl of knowledge from Mauzy. Apparently it’s OK to call Stephen Sondheim, legendary Into the Woods composer and eight time Tony Award winner, Steve. “Everyone calls him Steve!” she laughs. “He likes to be called Steve! It is weird. Steve Sondheim.”