Stephen Sondheim is a titan in the world of musical theater, and it would seem self-evident that you’d want to make movie versions of his brilliant and successful stage events. Even so, even as Hollywood has started to come around to the notion of the musical once more, Sondheim’s work has been slow to make the jump in recent years. I’m not talking about “West Side Story” or “Gypsy” or any of his early successes. I’m talking about the last ten to fifteen years of Hollywood, where Sondheim’s name just hasn’t been the same powerhouse it once was.
Sure, we’ve got a movie version of “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street” from a few years ago, but I think most Sondheim fans had their issues with the adaptation, and rightfully so. Sondheim may be the most demanding composer working in American musical theater, and even the best singers who have tackled his material have found it to be a challenge. Casting non-singers (the kindest possible term for Helena Bonham Carter) in a lead in one of his productions seems like cruelty to both performer and audience.
Part of my problem with “Sweeney” also had to do with the way Tim Burton bent everything to be more “Tim Burtony,” but I’m not sure Rob Marshall is an improvement in any way. Sure, Marshall directed “Chicago,” but there were a number of other voices in that particular mix, and I think crediting Marshall with the film’s ultimate success is generous, to say the least. At least on “Into The Woods,” the biggest name in the creative mix is Sondheim instead of the filmmaker. I certainly think he should be the top of the food chain in bringing it to the screen as well.
“Into The Woods” is perhaps the most commercial thing Sondheim ever wrote, and it feels like pop culture has caught up with this play’s mash-up mentality. I’m excited to see it get translated to a film world that captures the playful spirit of the text and the music. Again… not sure Rob Marshall would be the guy I’d hire to do that, but hopefully so much of this already exists that he’s more of a traffic cop than the actual boss.
Getting Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep to star in the film certainly seems fitting in terms of them both being genuine stars, but of those two, I’m less interested in hearing Depp sing again. The limits of his vocal range were evident in his performance as “Sweeney,” and it feels like this is going to be another case of him not quite being right for the task, but getting the part because of his financial track record. Frustrating.
Streep, on the other hand, seems to be even more luminous than normal when she sings, and if she wants to play a wicked witch, I’m more than happy to watch that.
The story manages to blend in characters like Rapunzel, Jack (of Beanstalk fame), Little Red Riding Hood and, of course, the Big Bad Wolf. Right now, James Lapine and John DeLuca are working on the script and the arrangements for the film, and the goal right now seems to be to sign everyone for a spring 2014 start date on the movie.
We’re curious to see if this is finally it. There have been a lot of false starts on “Into The Woods” over the years, so we’ll remain cautiously optimistic until we actually see trailers start to appear.
In the meantime, you can see Depp as Tonto in “The Lone Ranger” on