Walt Disney Records
16th December 2014
This is the first time Vanguard Online has covered anything on Walt Disney Records and we wouldn’t be if it wasn’t a Stephen Sondheim musical. That said, I’m pretty sure we’ve not covered a musical either…..
Sondheim has a history of dark and grown up musicals and this is no exception. You know fairy tales are dark; deals done to secure the arrival of babies, curses, eyes being poked out, poison, toes and heels being hacked off, murder….. gruesome stuff. Into The Woods sees these tied together into a deeper tale that flits from story to story, seeing one witch turn up in more than one story or Cinderella’s prince comparing notes with Rapunzel’s or Cinderella’s prince copping off with the baker’s wife. The album is most of the soundtrack (missing out some scenes on this one disc version – a 2-disc set is available) and carries an unnecessary full libretto – the words are all perfectly clear anyway, since they chose actors who could sing instead of singers who could act.
Meryl Streep makes a cruel and power-mad witch (using skills she learnt whilst playing Margaret Thatcher), Anna Kendrick is a bitter Cinderella, Emily Blunt is a desperately childless baker’s wife, married to James Corden. Johnny Depp is a wolf, misleading Little Red Riding Hood as he tries to channel David Bowie performing Brecht’s Baal.
Sondheim has a string of grown up musicals to his name like the bitter Sweeney Todd and songs like Send In The Clowns, Losing My Mind, Marry Me A Little, A Little Priest (Todd reciting his human-filled pie list) and, of course, all the lyrics to West Side Story.
Into The Woods aims for a sense of the complexity of changing settings and emotions as we travel through the woods of adult life (here, a fairy tale) before waking to a happier dawn with things at least partially resolved and errors forgiven. This isn’t a typical Disney film as the happy ending you think you can see approaching is headed off and replaced by something messier. It’s a little like a child’s scary journey into a fairy story before a safe return to warm reality, tucked up in bed. And that’s why we love horror stories…….
This is not background listening – every song advances the story and every word is intended to be heard. It’s an intriguing listen if you can open yourself to a genre you might not have tried before.