This holiday season has been very special to me. Yes, I love Christmas, but beyond that, two movie musicals have come to the big screen--Annie and Into the Woods. With my music theatre background, I was pretty skeptical of both releases. I've now seen both (with my children), and I have some thoughts to share.
First, we saw Annie. I cried from the very first note (this is not unusual, by the way), but for a different reason than the norm. I cried because 32 years earlier, I sat in a movie theater with my mom watching the version with Aileen Quinn. I had my two little girls on either side of me, introducing them to an entirely new Annie.
I loved this version. While it's different than the one I'm most familiar with, which was different from the Broadway version, the creative team made this its own thing. It's fresh, it's cute, it's relevant. I would recommend this, even to my theatre friends.
(On a side note, I'm not varying my spelling of theatre by accident. In my book, the stage is the theatre while a movie is shown in a theater.)
Tonight, we saw Into the Woods. I've known this show since its Broadway release. I watched the live performance on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. I saw the first national tour production. I've done the show three times in varying capacities. I know every inch of the score, every lyric, every note. I own a copy of the published script, the vocal selections, the DVD, and the children's book published in 1988. It's one that is close to my heart. I remember years ago when there was talk of Jim Henson's people doing a movie version. When I heard Disney had it...and that Meryl Streep was starring in it...I was worried.
What I saw on that screen was lovely. It was entertaining and fun. My only criticism was that I felt like I was watching an abbreviated version (and I was. It had to be.) We had just gotten to the end of Act One and the first Ever After, and suddenly there was a giantess crashing through the kingdom. The dissatisfaction of the characters after they received what they wished was lacking. I would have liked to see that depth, but it just wasn't there. For those familiar with the stage version, you could pick up on it, but I missed the Act Two opening.
I thought Johnny Depp was a brilliant Wolf. He was perfectly slimy and smarmy in all the right ways. I did miss the concept of the Wolf and Cinderella's Prince played by the same actor. That adds so much to the creepiness of the Prince's character.
Which leads me to Chris Pine. I wasn't expecting to like him or Rapunzel's Prince. In fact, when Agony was about to start, I nearly left the theater for more popcorn. But I didn't want to miss a moment, and I am so glad I stayed seated. The song was hilarious!
As Cinderella fled the castle in one of the festival scenes I caught strains of one of the waltzes from A Little Night Music. That little extra Sondheim made my heart flip. So happy!
Honestly, I didn't think anyone could fill Bernadette Peters' shoes as the Witch. As I said, I was worried about Meryl Streep taking the role. But you know what? She did a nice job with it. Much better than Mamma Mia. Stay With Me was touching. Throughout the movie, there were nuances that the camera can pick up. On a stage, certain things don't read. I appreciated those nuances, especially in this song.
On the other hand, there were many stage jokes that were lost. This is such a heavy story, particularly the second half, it needs the humor. I don't know if cinematic audiences just didn't get them, or the delivery failed, or a combination of the two. I also missed the Midnight Gone interludes.
One of my favorite parts of the stage show is the Narrator/Mysterious Man character. His final song, leading into he Baker singing No More should have been there. That's such a pivotal point for the Baker, leading him into becoming the next Narrator as he tells his son the story at the end. I would have liked that cyclical aspect to be a bit more obvious.
Meryl Streep's final song, Last Midnight, was ultra-creepy as she sang it as a lullaby to the Baker's son. I thought that was such a neat way to direct that piece.
I wasn't overly satisfied with the very end. Children Will Listen was beautiful, but I needed to see more. I needed that final Into the Woods production number. With the camera passing over the woods, rising up to the clouds, then fading to black prior to the credits rollings...just didn't do it for me. I wanted to see the resolution. I wanted to see the Princes with their new conquests. I wanted that curtain call feel for closure.
All that to say, I will still watch my DVD and sing the songs as I have learned them. But when this one comes out, I will certainly add it to my library. (Annie, too!) I love that I was able to share these precious pieces of my heart with my children, even though it was done in a much different way than I first experienced. I hope Hollywood continues to produce movie musicals of quality. I'm grateful for these two.
Award-winning sci-fi author * Christ follower, wife, and mom * broadcast content producer. And yes, I am a real duchess. http://amzn.to/2eLTlH3