"I Was Raised to be Charming, Not Sincere."
All this to say, there are thousands of people in this world who really thought that this musical was going to get screwed up irrevocably and I was never too concerned one way or the other. I am pleased to report, though, that the “Into the Woods” movie is probably the best film adaptation we’re ever going to get.
I credit several things to this film’s success, the first being the impeccable adaptation of the script from stage to screen by James Lapine, who wrote the musical’s book back in the day. Lapine knew exactly how to kill his darlings. There are few changes to the dialogue, mostly cuts, specifically three large songs and some smaller incidental numbers, as well as two characters (the Narrator and the Mysterious Man). Each of these cuts were necessary, and effectively shrink the musical to a manageable length and keep it going at a quick and steady pace, something that’s vital for any production of this show. The show is also kept afloat by the razor sharp direction. Several numbers that are normally delivered to the audience as sung-through monologues were altered to become more active and to fit inside the larger narrative instead of stopping everything in its tracks, a change I appreciate. The beautiful scenic design isn’t just there to look pretty, either; the characters are constantly climbing up trees, splashing each other with water, rolling around in leaves and creating an exciting level of chaos, reminding the audience that The Woods is a character in this show, too.
The cast, furthermore, is a true ensemble. There is no weak link. Specifically, Emily Blunt and James Cordon as the Baker and his Wife are both a believable and dynamic couple, breathing new life into two characters that can easily be underdone. Meryl Streep is, of course, a revelation as The Witch, bringing a vulnerability to the role that I rarely see actresses attempt. All the characters live in the same world, and they’re thriving.
“Into the Woods” has flaws that will never be fixed, and newbies to the show might not take to the film; it’s an acquired taste if I ever knew one. But fans of Sondheim and Lapine will be pleased by this adaptation as long as they can let go of the substantial cuts. Sometimes people leave you. No one leaves for good.