For the last few weeks we have been looking at musical versions of the classic tale of Cinderella. Today I want to look at the award winning musical Into the Woods with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. This musical intertwines the plot of several fairy tales by both the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault.
One of the reasons I like this musical so much is that it harkens back to the darker versions of these tales and is sort of the anti-Disney. Which is why it is a shame that Disney produced a live action version because they chopped and changed it and made it just another musical rather than the dark and often quite creepy production that it really is.
I am biased though having loved this musical for a very long time. The original show premiered in 1986 and transferred to Broadway in 1987. I have the "filmed live" version with the Broadway cast on DVD and the performances are top notch. The Broadway run was nominated for ten Tony awards and won three--Best Score, Best Book and Best Actress in a Musical for Joanna Gleason. When it premiered in the West End it was nominated for seven Olivier Awards and won two--Best Actress in a Musical for Imelda Staunton and Best Director. These last awards are so well deserved. Staunton injects a range of feelings into the role of the Baker's Wife and Gleason really brings out the humour in Lapine's words unlike the po-faced Emily Blunt in the live action film.
But I digress. We are here to talk about Cinderella.
This musical uses many of the elements found in the oldest versions of our classic tale:
1. The King is giving a festival--not just a one night ball--that last for three days.
2. She is forced to sort lentils from the ashes as an impossible task.
3. Cinderella can talk to birds and they help her in her impossible tasks.(see above)
4. Her mother's grave has a hazel tree on it that was watered with her tears and serves as the magical helper.
5. The slippers are golden and not glass (the glass slipper was an invention of Perrault)
6. Pitch or tar was spread on the steps to keep her from running away.
7. The stepsisters cut off their toes and their heels to try to fit into the shoe.
8. At the wedding, birds fly down and peck out the eyes of the stepsisters.
I have seen this as an outdoor show in Regent's Park and it was delightful. That show was adapted and brought to the US and played in Central Park in New York. The Broadway version is top notch and even the West End version with it's strange stark whiteness of set and costume was better than the Disney film, in my opinion. I had hoped to show you songs from different versions, but I can find no video clips from the West End version.
The first song is from the opening of the show. It is everyone that we will meet in the show and tells of the dreams and wishes of all of fairy tale characters.
Here we have Cinderella at the grave of her mother.
Here we are with Cinderella meeting the Baker's Wife in the woods and talking about her feelings about being at the ball. I would have loved to have found a clip from the Broadway version for this one as Joanna Gleason's performance adds so much warmth and humour to the scene that I feel Emily Blunt is lacking.
Lastly, we have Cinderella stuck on the steps of the palace. I like this version because it's a time freeze where her split second thinking is broken up by a song as time momentarily stops everything around her. You also get to see what it would be like to be stuck in real pitch.
Here we have the Stepmother mutilating the feet of her daughters to fit into the shoe. The Disney film was the only clip I could find which is a shame as they don't show the cutting. The Broadway version does this masterfully with the spirit of Cinderella's mother warning the Prince to "look for the blood within the shoe" as he passes the hazel tree on his horse.
If you have only seen the Disney adaptation and you want to watch the Broadway production, you can watch it here in its entirety.
That's all for this week. Stay tuned next week as we explore the very British tradition of Pantomime.