Many of my friends immediately came running to me for my reaction: I view St. Stephen Sondheim as close to deity as exists on the planet, and clearly, I was going to uphold their sense of moral outrage that there would be changes to this absolutely perfect piece of art and pop culture.
They were shocked and surprised when I said I wasn't outraged, and let me explain why.
In 1988, we were extraordinarily lucky to have the original broadway cast of Into the Woods captured on tape for American Playhouse. This was well filmed, well produced and is an absolutely excellent record of the piece that Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine created in the mid-1980's. As such, it was also a product of its time. So much of the subtext in it comes straight from Bruno Bettleheim's The Uses of Enchantment, but is also colored by a Reagan-Era fear of nuclear annihilation, the onset of the AIDS Epidemic, and the need for found/created family. So, we have that piece. Set in stone. Captured in time. Brilliant as it is.
Wait..Brilliant as it is? Let's look at that. The first act of Into the Woods is very nearly perfect. I'm going to go there and say that. Seriously. Very Nearly Perfect. It doesn't need "Our Little World." It doesn't really need "To Be Continued..." It is a gorgeous, completely plotted 90 minute musical in and of itself. Act Two is a second one act musical that picks up the story, compounds and complicates it and underscores many of the deeper, darker themes that are introduced in the first.
But Act Two also has a problem. The ballad problem. "Moments in the Woods." "Any Moment." "No More." "No One is Alone." "Children Will Listen." With the exception of "Your Fault/Last Midnight" two thirds of the second act are gorgeous songs that individually have weight and meaning and beautiful lyrics, but collectively weigh the fucking show down and make you go, "Didn't you say that? Twice?" We used to joke that "No One Is Alone" could be parodied as, "Sing this song forever/On and on again/Cause you now remember/It's Reprise Number Ten/" Sondheim himself cut the verse of "Children Will Listen" to move things along. (Sadly, I love those verses, and thank you Barbra Streisand -- yes I went there -- for giving them to us.)
So. Sondheim is bowing to Disney to make Act Two less dark? Good. If it means that Rapunzel doesn't die (pity.) or that the Baker's Wife doesn't have an affair with Cinderella's Prince (huh?), then we simply have to see what they have in mind. But here's what I have to say on that: TRUST THE GODS. Sondheim and Lapine wrote it in the first place. They're getting a chance to rewrite it themselves. If you like their work, TRUST THEIR WORK. Of course, we may not love the end result. I certainly loathed the changes they put into the 2003 revival (getting rid of the whole nice/good/right them? No thank you, boys!), but it's a different time and a different age. For my friends under the age of 28, you weren't around when it was written in the first place, so calm down. Change happens.
In fact, change can be great. The film versions of The Music Man, Oliver, Grease, Cabaret and Chicago are all amazing. Some tweaked from the originals, some wholly reconceived, but all changed. The film versions of Rent, Phantom, Evita, Hairspray...not really changed. Not really good.
So what I'm saying is look, the piece was written to express the mood of its time and the original creators are still around and alive to update it. Are they doing it because Disney doesn't want to kill off one of its lavishly branded princesses? Sure, but you know what? Disney is putting up the cash. No other studio wanted to, and let's face it. It's business.
Want the art? Come on over some night, we'll drink wine and watch Bernadette, Joanna, Chip, Robert, Danielle, Ben, Tom and the rest of the gang do the original. But on Christmas night, 2014, I know where I'm going: Into the Woods.