Overtures Takes You Into The Woods with Musical Theatre Melodies

The next “Musical Theatre Melodies” broadcast on 96.5 FM on Tuesday, 31st October will feature a 30th Anniversary tribute to Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”, from the original 1987 Broadway cast recording starring Tom Aldredge, Kim Crosby, Ben Wright and Bernadette Peters. It will be introduced by New York-based theatre critic and Internet columnist* – Peter Filichia. (see bottom of article for listening details) Here we set the scene:


Into the Woods, is one of Stephen Sondheim’s more generally successful shows, especially in the United States.  It opened on 5 November 1987 at the Martin Beck Theatre where it ran for 765 performances.  Its London premier was not so popular.  It opened at the Phoenix Theatre on 25 September 1990 where it ran for only 197 performances covering the Christmas period.  It was Imelda Staunton’s first Sondheim venture and it won her the Best Actress in a Musical Olivier Award.

Broadway’s star was Bernadette Peters playing the Witch but, it was Joanna Gleason playing the Baker’s wife who won the Tony (the part that Staunton played in London).  London’s Witch was Julia McKenzie and she was given a new song, ‘Our little world’ sung with her daughter Rapunzel.  London’s production was a much darker piece.

Into the Woods had first seen the light of day at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California where it ran for a fifty performance season starting 4 December 1986.  It proved the piece to be workable and the next few months were spent in preparation for New York.  James Lapine wrote both the book and directed the piece so the whole was very much a collaboration between Lapine and Sondheim.

New York saw a major revival in 2002, again directed by Lapine and starring Vanessa L Williams as the Witch.  It ran for 279 performances. 

London down sized it for a season at the Donmar Warehouse in 1999 and another in the Linbury Studio at Covent Garden Opera House in 2007.  Three years later there was a six week season at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.  This production was replicated in New York in Central Park as part of the Public Theatre’s free summer theatre programme.

The show’s inspiration may show the reason why London has always been slower on this particular Sondheim show than his others.  It is a combination of many Brothers Grimm and other fairy stories, the area laid claim to by the British pantomime and therefore always associated with the Christmas period.  In particular the stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and the lesser known Rapunzel tale.  It was the later that introduced the childless Baker and his wife wanting to start a family.  In the show it is this tale that has the other stories inter-wound.  Perhaps the decision to make the original London production a darker piece that it was in New York was again a way to stop it being compared with a pantomime.

Both the original Broadway production and London’s Regent’s Park production were filmed and issued on DVD.

Judi Dench’s voice has twice been used as that of the Witch both in the Broadway revival and that at Regent’s Park.  Glen Close did the honours for the Central Park version.

The subject matter brought interest from Walt Disney Pictures and James Lapine adapted it for the screen with Sondheim agreeing to changes and cutting songs and changing certain lyrics to follow the altered book.  To fit the Disney mould violence was lessened and sexual indications omitted.  It was filmed at the Shepperton Studios directed by Rob Marshall.  Meryl Streep played the Witch.  It was released in 2014 and was well received taking $213 million at the box office.   Although nominated for Oscar Awards it did not receive any.

Rexton S Bunnett                                                                                            Illustrations from the Overtures Archive

The broadcast will go “to air” between 9 – 11 p.m. EDT local Melbourne time; (= 10 a.m. – 12 noon GMT in Britain; = 11 p.m. – 1 a.m. NZDT; = 6 – 8 a.m. EDT New York time; = 3 – 5 a.m. PDT Los Angeles time.)

For those listening in via the Internet on 96.5 Inner FM’s website the webpage link for the Inner FM Web Radio player is  http://right-click.com.au/rcPlayer2/index.php?c=innerfm or go to the Inner FM homepage at www.innerfm.org.au and follow the links.