Premiering on Broadway in November of 1987, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical Into the Woods is a comedic fusion of several well-known fairytales bringing Jack and his magic beanstalk into the same story as Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood, among others. With Disney’s film adaption featuring Meryl Streep as the Witch scheduled to hit screens on Christmas day, Image has released a performance featuring all but one of the original cast members, originally recorded for US public television’s “American Playhouse” in 1991.
Things begin with a Narrator (Tom Aldredge), who steps out to utter those familiar words, “Once upon a time.” The primary focus of the story is the Baker (Chip Zien) and his Wife (Joanna Gleason), who have had no success in conceiving a child. We soon learn that he couple has been cursed by a witch (Bernadette Peters) over an old family grudge. She’s willing to restore their fertility, but only if they retrieve four items for her: a milky white cow, a blood red cape, a lock of hair like yellow corn, and a golden slipper. Desperate, the couple takes off for the woods, where they must find the items before their three day time limit runs out.
Getting and keeping the four items proves no easy task for the baker and his wife. While Jack (Ben Wright), Cinderella (Kim Crosby), Rapunzel (Pamela Winslow), and Little Red Riding Hood items, keeping them proves to be very difficult. Some may find the end of the first act confusing, as all of the traditional fairy tales conclude, and the company sings about “happy ever after.” In the second act, Sondheim and Lapine go beyond the familiar fairytales, adding their own unique twist on things. Happiness turns out to be boring. The familiar structure collapses, as the characters attack the Narrator, deciding they no longer want him to tell their story. Once separate narrative, blend into each other. (“This is ridiculous”, sings the Baker’s Wife, “what am I doing here? I’m in the wrong story!”) A debate rages among the characters, as actions taken in the first act, lead to disastrous results in the second. By the end of the play, happy songs are a thing of the past, and the remaining characters must work together, and find a way to move with their lives.
Generally beloved by Sondheim fans, Into the Woods is an interesting metaphor about life, its experiences, and challenges. Life can be happy, but it’s also, a messy, disappointing experience, and we must learn from each challenge life presents us with.
Upconverted from a standard definition presentation, Image’s 1080p Blu-ray exhibits minor aliasing at the foot of the stage in long shots. Otherwise things look pretty good, understanding that upconversion can’t provide the level of detail seen in production native to high definition. While there is no doubt that this production looks better on home video than it ever has, those that already own the earlier DVD release would see only a minimal improvement.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0. soundtrack sounds surprisingly good, providing a clear rendition of the actors dialogue, and vocals. While the recording is somewhat limited in terms of dynamic range, the orchestra has been well mixed to provide appropriate accompaniment. Some orchestral details are lost, but that do to the inherent limitations of the technology, and not the disc itself.
No subtitles are included.
No extras are available.