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Customer Reviews

Oh, when it really ain't broke...

I occasionally teach a high school class on Stephen Sondheim, and it begins with "Into the Woods". I am a tremendous admirer of the piece and the original version in which the cast created such memorable, fresh, and remarkable performances that the revival had two options: 1 - Recreate the original and risk becoming a caricature or imitation or 2 - Try to reinvent the piece with new interpretations on the lines and the songs. This revival chose road #2, and the problem is that the original interpretations and characters were so definitive that this revival becomes incredibly muddled and, well, ordinary in its endeavor to be different. Vanessa Williams is weak here because she never lets go of her personal essence for the sake of a character. In her endeavor not to sound silly or ridiculous as the Witch, she ends up sounding silly and ridiculous as herself - especially in the opening scene. (But hey, it was almost LuPone, so I guess we should be thankful) I have been an admirer of Gregg Edelman since "City of Angels", but Gregg, who let you say "You're travelin' so fleetly"? And Gregg, you need a singing partner in "Agony" who is worthy of singing with you. The Little Red is charming here, and is also played by a little girl. Her innocence and sweetness offer some beautiful recordings, but are inconsistent with the character. Jack's voice is nice, but it is not legitimate and it's a little strange. In fact, many of the leads and most of the ensemble have a bizarre weak quality to their voices which leaves the ensemble numbers kind of flat. Cinderella is excellent, and is the only one to hold her own against her counterpart in the original by creating something new, workable, and well performed. The Baker is fine, and his wife is a wonderful and sweet soprano. However, the urgency, subversiveness, and grit of Joanna Gleason's performance is not here and necessary for the character, I feel. I guess, on that note, I should say that this recording is fine, and that those who are a fan of the work will find things to love about it. It is worth having, but I guess for me, the glue that holds "Into the Woods" together is it's cleverness - and clever this ain't.

Hold out for the original.

I bought this recording of INTO THE WOODS in a moment of desperation, and I'm sorry I did, because it pales in comparison to the original (Broadway) cast recording, which is not currently available on iTunes. What this recording gains in sound quality it loses in everything from tone to diction to expressivity. It's a shame that such a consistently triumphant label as Nonesuch has been putting out these mediocre Sondheim performances, although I am sure that SWEENEY TODD will redeem them in early 2006.

A Collector's Item

I found it rather interesting that Vanessa Williams' two forays onto the Broadway stage were in musicals by two of the most sophisticated composers around. She does an admirable job as Aurora in Kander and Ebb's KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, but her performance as the Witch here in INTO THE WOODS was sorely lacking in the depth of the character. But, one can't really single her out for that in this production: it seems that no one really got the depth of the show here. I think that the characters in this show have been idealized in some sort of "fairy tale" way, because of their origins, but the characters as written by Lapine and Sondheim are imperfect, in fact they are severely flawed in many ways. The original cast captured that truly human quality, and this cast missed that boat. It's also interesting to analyze the styles of the three available cast recordings. The original had a generic non-geographic fairy tale feel. The London cast (for which the song "Our Little World" was written) has a decidedly British feel, which adds a wonderful quality of authenticity. This production is very American, which does not suit the material. The clipping of words, strong R sounds, dipthongs and omission of final consonant sounds makes this production sounds amateurish. Basically, this cast seemed to cater to a younger audience, due to the following the fairy-tale story has gained among the elementary and middle school crowd. But it is a mature show with very adult themes, and to dumb those themes down hurts the show immensely. If you have the original and/or London cast, don't bother with this one, unless you are a collector. For new orchestrations, lyrics and even a new song (though it's on the LCR) this is worth it, but if you're merely looking for a good cast recording, go with either or both of the others.

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