Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday Dance Party: Moments in The Woods

Into the Woods has been on my mind all week, probably kicked off by the high school production I attended (and wrote about here). It's surely one of my favorite musicals of all time, and probably one of Stephen Sondheim's most accessible (which is why so many high schools and community theaters tackle the project).

When theatrical impresario Noel Craig of the Old Globe died, I wrote a bit about seeing the original production of Into the Woods in San Diego, before it was refined and transferred to Broadway. Even in its gestational period, the play was masterful, intertwining several tales from the Brothers Grimm with an original story by Sondheim and librettist James Lapine.

That subplot, a baker and his wife longing for a child, provided the substance for two of the strongest musical theatre performances I have seen. Chip Zien and Joanna Gleason begin the show as a mismatched pair, but by the story's sad ending, they have learned to grab every available moment in the woods. This short clip reflects their awkward justification for using deceit to achieve their goal:

Gleason won the Tony for her performance (deservedly swiping it from Phantom of the Opera's Sarah Brightman, and her own co-star Bernadette Peters), and it's a blessing that her work is preserved on DVD. That television version includes her showstopping number in Act II, which, unfortunately, is not available out here on the interweb. But take a peek at this snippet of the show's most famous ballad, sung here by Gleason when she returns to the stage for the show's final moments: she has been (SPOILER ALERT) stomped to death by a giant, leaving her husband and newborn son alone:

The 1988 Tony Awards broadcast featured the following clip, which takes a pretty mean hatchet job to the show's various plots. Phylicia Rashad had replaced Bernadette Peters as the Witch, but the rest of the original cast remained. Who knows if this montage (I guess we would call it a mashup of the show's score, thank you Glee) brought in extra audiences. Thankfully, that DVD version is a swell documentation of the theatrical experience which was Into the Woods. If you haven't seen it, do so immediately.