As a film, Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods has been steeped in mysterious rumour since the early 1990s with numerous big names – Robin Williams, Danny DeVito, Susan Sarandon – attached. And when announced as commissioned by The Walt Disney Studios in 2013, the rumours once more abounded with possible casting choices and questionable script changes causing both outrage and delight for many Sondheim fans.
With Into The Woods out in UK cinemas today, here are the stand-out tracks, sung by its diverse and talented ensemble cast.
At 15 minutes long, this intro is a veritable amuse-bouche of the cast, giving just a small taster of main characters and whetting your appetite for the rest. It’s immediately apparent that the Narrator/Mysterious Man has been absorbed into the role of the Baker (James Corden). In the stage version, the Narrator is revealed to be the Baker’s Father, with the Baker later echoing his father in the first line of the show: “Once upon a time, in a far-off kingdom…” But this edit serves to bring the film full circle, where the Baker is telling the story to his newborn son.
But never mind this, you’ll let go of all “this isn’t like the play!” pretentiousness once you hear the Witch (Meryl Streep) rap about her vast yield of vegetables, exquisitely rhyming ‘asparagus’ with ‘watercress’.
On the Steps of the Palace
Who knew Anna Kendrick had this voice!? Sure, she sings in Pitch Perfect with a largely conventional rendition of When I’m Gone (Cups). But this funny turning point of a solo massively stretches her vocal range and ability, finally giving Kendrick the chance to show off exactly what she can do.
It’s big, it’s bold and it’s full of comedy gold. Even if you were dazzled by Meryl Streep’s singing in the highly cringe-worthy Mamma Mia, this is the song that proves Streep has talent to rival the best of Broadway.
The timing of this is perfect. It is simply a fast, funny tennis match of blame between four characters, all utterly convinced their predicament is the fault of another. They unanimously decide to blame the Witch – this does not end well for them. Performed on stage, the wild speed of this song does cause lines to be lost, a sad symptom of the stage show but you’ll certainly catch every word in the film.
Finale/Children Will Listen
Split into two parts on the album, this is the ultimate tearjerker that rounds off what is a long but solid production, uniting the voices of the cast in a rousingly beautiful end. Though it all starts with a “Once upon a time…”, this song does not end with a “…happily ever after”, in keeping with the film’s anti-fairytale story.
Overall, there is a artful mix of choral aptitude, especially with James Corden and Emily Blunt delivering on a surprisingly wide range of impassioned songs for such powerful voices to contend with. ‘I Know Things Now’ and ‘Giants In The Sky’ offer emotive and poignant solos for newcomers Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone (the latter last seen as Gavroche in Les Misérables). And in a significantly lower-pitched rendition of ‘Hello, Little Girl’, the Wolf (played by Johnny Depp) is still as disturbingly creepy as ever.
There is very little to fault in the Into The Woods soundtrack, where both new and familiar voices are united in emotionally-charged performances. The edits are almost unnoticeable in what is a Sondheim-approved reworking, and it’s sure to work on screen.
Into The Woods is out in UK cinemas today.