Sunday, December 28, 2014

Into The Woods, You Go Again: A Motion Picture Review

Well, boys and girls, the highly-anticipated motion picture version of Into the Woods has FINALLY been released. Our original plan was to see The Interview on Christmas Day and wait until New Years Day to see Into the Woods, but some high-n'-mighty hackers with their eyes on terrorism changed that up a bit. *Side note: I did end up seeing The Interview on December 26. Up yours, you angry little Asian potato-bodied manbaby! Totally not worth the fuss. It's a Seth Rogen/James Franco movie for God's sake! Not some witty, biting political commentary. There's been more offensive shit on Family Guy!) If anything, it made more fun of 'Murica than North Korea.

I had my firm doubts about this movie. I was pretty nervous after 2012's half-epic-masterpiece-half-Russell-Crowe-shitstorm, Les Miserables. I thought Meryl Streep was going to just barely get through the songs like in Mamma Mia!. I thought Johnny Depp was going to pull his drunken, stoic Sweeney Todd character back out for his turn as The Wolf. I thought that Anna Kendrick would stand around like Kristen Stewart in Twilight. I feared that Hollywood might take what is arguably Stephen Sondheim's most beloved, stirring, well-known pieces and cram it into another heavy-handed, CGI-stuffed mass of auto-tuned drek with questionable casting and a "Disneyfied" sugar coating (or, more recently, a dark, gritty, sexy turn on shit we've already seen). Thankfully, my fears were unfounded, as the movie turned out to be (in my humble opinion) a devoted, carefully-handled film that stood on its own and maintained the profound and universal themes present in the stage production.

Into The Woods
Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim 
Book: James Lapine
Based On: Grimm's Fairytales & Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment
Broadway Debut: 1987
Tony Nominations/Wins: 10/3 (Phantom of the Opera swept that year)

The Story:
The musical intertwines the characters and plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales - Little Red Riding Hood, Jack & the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, etc. - and follows them (literally) into the woods to explore the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests. The musical is tied together by an original story involving a childless baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family, their interaction with a neighboring witch who has placed a curse on them, and their interaction with other storybook characters during their journey. The second act examines what happens after "happily ever after" and reminds us that wishes, paths, and journeys change with time and experience.

The Themes:
The tagline for this movie is "Be careful what you wish for." Though it is an integral part of the musical and probably tested best for family viewers, I think that Disney spent way too much time on focusing on the "Be careful what you wish for" theme. Wishes change as we change. We grow and want different things as we encounter new things in life. We learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. There are no simple, happy endings because we're human and we're never finished, even if the dream is achieved or the curse is lifted. There is so much meaty subject matter that you can't focus on just one theme throughout. The show indeed covers wish fulfillment and its consequences, but it also examines growing up, parents and children, accepting responsibility, morality, and dealing with adversity. As we grow, we find that our parents don't have all the answers and are not always right. They make decisions whose consequences sometimes fall on their children. They may neglect or overprotect their children out of love, but it may result in an accidentally f*cked up child.
Witch: "What's the matter?"
Rapunzel: "Oh... nothing. You just locked me in a tower without company for fourteen years, then blinded my prince and banished me to a desert where I had little to eat and again no company...and then bore twins! Because of the way you treated me, I'll never, never be happy!"
Witch: "I was just trying to be a good mother."
We often lose sight of right and wrong when emotion intervenes. Should we surrender a young boy to a vengeful giant because she threatens violence on the rest of the kingdom (omigod! Unintentional tie-in with The Interview and the cyber-terrorists!) Should we curse those who have wronged us because it will make us feel better? Should we abandon what we wished for when it turns out differently than we expected? Our choices and actions have an effect on others. It's wise to monitor our children as well as ourselves in an effort to be better people for each other. "Careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see and learn..."

My (Small) Issues:
I'm not gonna lie. I'm judgmental. I'm a backseat critic and I don't care who knows it! I had a few issues with some factors in the film, but nothing of a "WHY THE **** DID YOU CAST RUSSELL CROWE?!?!" magnitude.

Actress: I think Anna Kendrick is a very pretty, sweet, nice young lady with a lovely, pleasant singing voice and she did a fine job in the movie (I also look forward to Pitch Perfect 2). I just tdon't know if the was the absolute best choice for that role out of all the A-listers who can carry a tune. But then again, since they often flat-out refuse to cast Broadway talent, maybe she was the best person for the job...
a) The gown is lovely. But you don't need to run down the palace steps with your dress hiked up to your thighs. I get that you want to showcase your shoes. The shoes are lovely too. But again, we can see them without you hiking your dress up to your thighs. Show some modesty, for God's sake! You're a demure, young waif in a stunning gown, not Miley Cyrus at some awards show.
b) I think this falls squarely on the shoulders of the hair/makeup/costuming person: Cinderella's ponytail. Who the hell wears a ponytail to a royal ball?! You've got the dress, the shoes, the makeup...  You can't get that gussied up and leave the hair a hot mess. You just can't.
Even the Baker's Wife is sporting an updo! C'mon!!!

The Wolf's Outfit:
I can't get over how pleasantly surprised (and oddly turned on) I was by Johnny Depp's performance. I don't know why I assumed he'd play it like every character he portrays in any Tim Burton movie (weird, strung out, brooding, under the influence of some powerful uppers or downers). But boy, did he prove me wrong! He was deliciously lecherous, sleazy, and just plain horny! Now my only problem - nay, I actually loved the zoot suit - is the time period of his wolf costume. Everyone else was slumming around in an ambiguous time period of corsets and doublets and capes and leather pants. And here comes Johnny Depp slinking around like a furry Tex Avery cartoon. Again, don't get me wrong, I love it! And it's a heck of a lot more modest than the original Wolf costume.

The Lack of Broadway Veteran Cameos: 
Chita Rivera in Chicago. Colm Wilkinson & Frances Ruffelle in Les Miz. Andrea McArdle in the made-for-TV Annie. Carol Burnett in the made-for-TV Once Upon A Mattress. Where are the Broadway veteran cameos?!?!  There are a ton of little bit parts they could have thrown people into! Instead we've got Shakespeare Theatre Company alumni! That's great, but what do the musical theatre snobs get out of that? Nuthin'! We get one link to Harry Potter and Tammy Blanchard! Unacceptable! Here's my Dream Cameo Cast for you right here:
Cinderella's Mother: Kelli O'Hara
Giantess: Patti Lupone
Rapunzel's Prince: Aaron Tveit
Baker's Father: Norbert Leo Butz
Lucinda & Florinda: Sierra Boggess or Laura Osnes (I guess Tammy can stay)
Red Riding Hood's Granny: Bernadette Peters (only because Elaine Stritch is dead)
Steward: Christian Borle or Jason Alexander

Jack's Mother:
No real complaints here. I just thought she was kinda mean. I think 4 slaps upside Jack's head was about 3 too many. Also, I get that they felt the need to make her death less "bloody" than in the show, but they should have made it a tad more obvious that she was supposed to die after the scene ended. If I hadn't ever seen it, I would have thought she was just out of breath lying next to a log. Help me help you, Tom Hooper...

Cut Scenes/Songs: Most movies are 2½ hours now anyway. This movie clocked in at 2 hours & 4 minutes. I didn't think it was necessary to cut a certain character's death and the song "No More." I'm not giving the death away; you'll just have to watch the original on Netflix! But seriously, they could have had the scene be a minute and a half and we'd all have closure instead of them just inexplicably dropping off the face of the earth. I mean, they weren't TERRIBLY missed scenes in the movie, but "No More" is such a pivotal song! The more I think about it, the more upset I am that it was taken out. The baker's Father explains not only that perfect fairy tale endings don't exist in reality, but also that running away from life's curveballs and losses only make you hurt more. It's quite a disservice to the climax to take out the song/dialogue that shows how vital is is to endure and not give up. I know it's hard to keep every single song of the original production in the movie version, but the thing about Sondheim's work is that every song is simply essential to the continuation of the story or exposition of the character's identity. There is no point in a Sondheim show where the characters just "park and bark" for filler. When the movie was over, my fiancĂ© turned to me and pointed out the exact moment where "No More" should have been and mentioned that he felt something was missing from that scene. Even someone who had no prior exposure whatsoever to Into The Woods could tell when Sondheim's presence was removed. Powerful shit, my friends. Powerful shit!

So there you have it folks! I give this highly ambitious and enjoyable film an A- (B+ if I stew over "No More" much longer). There's a good chance I'll be seeing it again on New Years Day, so come on along and join me!

PS - Did anybody else catch the 3 seconds of A Little Night Music waltz score during the ball scene??? I may or may not have geeked out like a really excited Muppet...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I Dreamed A Dream Role: Top 5 Dream Roles

Hello again, loyal readers! ...both of you! It's been a while, but I'm planning a wedding here. Deal.

Anywho, I awoke this morning to find an amusing little game going on between us theatre junkies on Facebook. People list the top 5 musical theatre roles they would like to play and nominate their fellow theatre junkies to do the same. I was nominated this afternoon, but I had to think about it longer than I thought. Only #1 easily popped into my mind. I had to search through the trove of Broadway roles I knew and loved in my head to find 5 characters that I not only wanted to play, but truly could play.

I know what I am and what I am not. I am not an ingenue. I don't fit the typical Western beauty standards and I can't dance that well. Though I can sing them, I'm not Christine Daae, Eliza Dolittle, Cinderella, Laurie Williams, Fantine, Eponine, Cosette, or Millie Dilmount. When I occasionally get to climb out of the chorus pool, I land those supporting roles that often get a lot of love at the curtain call (I'm not dumping on the ensemble! They're VERY important and often have to work harder than the leads to make the them look good. I'm just bitter about my last audition. Don't mind me). Whether that's me or the character in general, I don't know. But here we go; my Top 5 Dream Roles.

1. Lady of the Lake - Spamalot 
This is, hands down, my #1 dream role. She belts like a boss and gets to be shamelessly funny. I identify with her persona pretty closely. She can play a sincere love scene, an soulful and inspirational perseverance anthem, and a resting-bitch-face diva meltdown in a span of 5 minutes. She's totally serious and totally unserious, simultaneously. Perfection.

2. Ms. Pennywise - Urinetown
What's not to love about a character who sings about the dangers of peeing? I unfortunately couldn't find a decent video of this song, but you get the idea...

3. Ruth Sherwood - Wonderful Town
What I love about Ruth is that even though its a starring role, she's obviously not a star in her career or personal life (that's her sister, Eileen). But she is able to persevere by being true to herself and lands the dream career (and man) in the end. I appreciate that she doesn't focus on being pretty or desirable, just because it comes easily to her sister. Happiness comes to her the way she is. Plus she's got some hilarious numbers!

4. The Witch - Into the Woods

I still don't see WHY Bernadette Peters could have played this role in the movie, but that's neither here nor there. The Witch tackles almost every human emotion and remains 100% endearing, even as the "villain" figure through the majority of the show. She's hardened by life and softened by motherhood. She's cynical and sassy. She gets to wear a cape.... Fuckin' Tony gold.

5. Kate - The Wild Party (Lippa)

Who wouldn't want to play a scantily-clad, 1920s coked-up prostitute and belt this number?!

And since there are WAY too many roles out there I'd like to play, here are 5 more:

6. Princess Winifred - Once Upon A Mattress
I got called back for this role, but 'twas not to be. Someday, maybe...
7. Irene Malloy - Hello, Dolly!
The songs she gets to sing. Case closed.
8. Marion Paroo - The Music Man
She gets to sing the ingenue songs, but she's not really an ingenue. She has no desire to be treated like a goddess or a princess, so she falls hard when a man with something intelligent to say treats her with respect.
9. Miss Hannigan - Annie
Seeing as small children irritate me already, I think I'd be pretty bitchin' (no pun intended) in this role! Plus I'm told I fake drunk very well.
10. Fanny Brice - Funny Girl
This one's a tall order. I think my mom does a better Jewish "accent" than I do. If this show and I ever do meet, I'll have to hire her as a vocal coach!