We've changed. We're strangers. I'm meeting you in the woods...
By Gregory Jacobs-Roseman (Composer-Lyricist)
Writing for Crazytown week-to-week is sort of a hit-and-miss game. Some weeks I have well-crafted and thought-out posts, other weeks they’re just a jumble of words. Some weeks I know exactly what I want to write about, but more often I have absolutely no idea what to say before I sit down to write. But the best weeks are weeks like this one (and last week too), where news is bestowed by the internet, everyone has a collective freak-out, and I get to add in my own two cents.
News broke on Wednesday that Stephen Sondheim (blessed be he) leaked a few spoilers of plot changes in the Into The Woods film have been made to the original stage play (spoilers below and in the previously linked article – though if you're reading this, you already know what they are).
I don’t know about yours, but my Facebook feed fucking imploded.
“HOW DARE THEY?!?!” seemed to be the major reaction. “THEY’VE RUINED MY CHILDHOOD!!! I’M NEVER GOING TO SEE THIS MOVIE!!!” It was like if someone drew a cartoon of Muhammad, except if instead of Muhammad the cartoon was of Billy Bigelow sodomizing Winthrop Paroo.
I however, take a somewhat different view.
First, let me be clear. I cherish Into The Woods as much as the next musical theatre nerd. I’ve previously written of my passion for the show on this blog when production photos of the film were first released. When I first saw the PBS video on VHS in middle school I was so enraptured I immediately procured my own copy, and my obsession ensued. I’ve since watched that recording so many times I can recite the entire show – songs AND dialogue – from beginning to end, with the same vocal inflections of all the original actors. Do I wish a purer film adaptation had been greenlighted? Of course I do! No, I’m not happy Disney is messing with one of my favorite shows of all time. And yet, I for one am still happy that after over 20 years of this film project hovering in stasis, Disney stepped up and it's finally being made for the worldwide movie-going audience.
I would like to take a moment here to discuss the concept of adaptation. I’ll begin by pointing out the obvious: film is not theatre. If you want to watch the stage version there is a video (yes, it’s a video, not a film) of the original cast starring Bernadette Peters and all her fabulous curly red tresses. But to bring the stage show to film, you have to adapt for your new medium and your new audience. In short, in a stage-to-screen adaptation: the film is NOT the play.
Here's a logistical example: in Into The Woods there’s the question of the act break and the narrator. Narration on film is always kind of iffy, but act breaks simply aren’t done, and one of the glorious conceits of the stage version of Into The Woods is the stark difference between Act I and Act II. But on film, a link has to be made. There was video from the set of the film of how they linked Act I and Act II posted online a few months ago, which you can find here – I’d embed the video, but you know – spoiler alert.
As for the choices lightening the darker elements of the plot – when it was announced that Disney was to produce the film, I had a feeling this would happen. Disney executives want this film to be seen by as wide an array of audiences as possible, so they clearly are gunning for that Motion Picture Association of America “PG” rating.