Tag Archives: Sondheim

Into the Woods: At Cinemas Nationwide from Friday 9th January

INTO THE WOODSFunny, absorbing, beautiful and challenging. A masterclass in how to bring great musical theatre to film.

I am aware that I am biased. Potentially I didn’t see this film through an objective woman-of-the-people filmgoer’s lens. I love a good musical and Stephen Sondheim is the MASTER. The darkness that he has brought to musical theatre over his long career has been way ahead of his time, and this movie brings his 1987 show into the 21st century.

Not that the book needed much tweaking – the themes and challenges of the characters are universal and their presentation seems surprisingly modern, helped by the addition of some CGI to make the fairy tale setting that bit more believable.

INTO THE WOODS

For those who haven’t seen it on stage or been listening to the album for years, here’s the premise: It’s a mash up of fairy tales –Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack & The Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood all begin their well-known quests and head into the woods. There they meet a baker and his wife attempting to break a curse laid on them by the wicked witch. Yet this is not your usual fairy story, for the key is in its complications, what happens after ‘happily ever after’…

I won’t tell you any more of the plot, but as someone who is generally a fantasy-sceptic I was amazed at how well the film dragged me into its web. The acting is great – Emily Blunt delivers a smasher as the Baker’s Wife, Anna Kendrick is on her normal barnstorming form and even James Corden is believable and effective as the hapless Baker. This isn’t even mentioning the goddess that is Meryl Streep, the appearance from Johnny Depp and, (my personal favourite song) the unforgettable performance of ‘Agony’ in all its’ camp glory by the two princes (Chris Pine & Billy Magnussen).

INTO THE WOODSThere is no dead wood here, no Russell Crowe. The only time where the spell seems to be slightly broken is during some of the spoken word pieces, but I can forgive these episodes as they serve a purpose in bringing the characters back to earth slightly. It takes nothing away from the story and slightly reflects the central message of the show – that we are all flawed in our own ways, and each have our own story to tell. Witches can be good, prince charming could well be a let-down and sometimes when wishes come true we wonder what all of the fuss was about. It’s a cautionary but ultimately optimistic tale.

To the many of you who have pre-booked tickets for this weekend, GET EXCITED. We have a modern classic on our hands.

Thank you very much to Laughing Buddha and Disney for the advance screening tickets – I could get used to this!

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Assassins – at The Pleasance, Islington until April 7th 2012

Not so much a bang as a whimper…

It’s Sondheim’s musical about nine of the fourteen individuals who have tried to assassinate American presidents, from Lincoln to Reagan. It was always going to be a little weird – and that is what is great about this musical – the selection of  madcap characters, each marginalised in their own way and wiling to commit the ultimate crime in order to gain notoriety, power or revenge.

This production at The Pleasance (a new venue for me, a good space and thankfully comfortable seating…) is from 2nd Company Productions. They have brought a strong cast together who expose the contradictions and absurdities of their would-be murderers well. In particular, Brandon Force shone as the manically-positive Charles Giteau whose jazz hands all the way to the gallows were reminiscent of Monty Python. Alexander Forsyth was also compelling as the more sombre assassin Leon Czolgosz.

Picture by Francis Loney. The Assassins: Marcia Brown (Lynette 'Squeaky' Fromme), Bo Frazier (John Hinckley), Tim McArthur (Samuel Byck), Padraig Breathnach (Guiseppe Zangara), Johnjo Flynn (Lee Harvey Oswald), Martin Dickinson (John Wilkes Booth), Alexander Forsyth (Leon Czolgosz), Brandon Force (Charles Guiteau), Bronwyn Baud (Sara Jane Moore)

The ensemble numbers worked well as did the costumes, yet something still didn’t quite click. There was an inconsistency in the clarity of each Assassin’s story – the two female assassins were remarkably interesting and followable, but it was difficult to see the point of every single one to the same extent – maybe a cut of one or two of the remainder would have made for a tighter flow.

A lovely looking production with some great performances, just lacking the ‘wow’ factor to top it all off.

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