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Sondheim Makes (Very Big) Plot Changes to Disney's 'Into the Woods' Adaptation, Doesn't Seem to Mind

by Jacob Combs
June 19, 2014 2:01 PM
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Meryl Streep as The Witch in "Into the Woods'
Meryl Streep as The Witch in "Into the Woods'

Before you read this, Sondheim fans, hide the fragile items near your computer or smartphone, because you're going to want to throw something.

In a recent New Yorker story, Stephen Sondheim spoke with a group of high school theater teachers who have produced the legendary composer/lyricist's provocative musicals in spite of school administrators' protests about the show's often-adult themes and shared some unsurprising but disappointing details about his upcoming film project.  

When Kevin Gallagher, a teacher who is mulling a production of Sondheim's "Into the Woods"--which Disney is turning into a Rob Marshall-helmed adaptation for the Christmas season starring Meryl Streep and Johnnie Depp--shared with the composer his school's worries about the sexualized interactions between Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, Sondheim replied, "Well, you'll be happy to know that Disney had the same objections."

Alert!  Do not read below if you don't want to know any spoilers about Disney's adaptation.

"You will find in the movie that Rapunzel does not get killed," Sondheim went on, "and the prince does not sleep with the [Baker's Wife].  You know, if I were a Disney executive I probably would say the same thing."

Kudos to Sondheim for being so zen about it.  But for those of us who love "Into the Woods" and the heart-wrenching emotional realness of its second act, this is a real blow.  Also cut, apparently, is "Any Moment," the see-ya-never farewell between Cindarella's Prince and the Baker's Wife after their adulterous tryst.  Sondheim says that he and co-writer James Lapine fought to keep the song in, but they eventually relented. And wrote another song to cover the gap. That's news.

Of school censorship, Sondheim told the teachers, "You have to explain to [students] that censorship is part of our puritanical ethics, and it's something that they're going to have to deal with. There has to be a point at which you don't compromise anymore, but that may mean that you won't get anyone to sell your painting or perform your musical. You have to deal with reality."

He's right, of course.  As another one of Sondheim's most brilliant songs, "Putting It Together" from "Sunday in the Park with George" puts it, making art is a lot about paying for it: "Lining up the funds but in addition / Lining up a prominent commission, / Otherwise your perfect composition / Isn't going to get much exhibition."

Sondheim fans are ecstatic about seeing a musical adaptation of "Into the Woods."  Since it's coming from Disney, we know it's not going to be as dark as Sondheim and Lapine's original.  We know that, but we're still not happy about it.  As "Into the Woods" makes ever so clear, the human condition is, at heart, one in which we constantly yearn for more than we have.

Musical lovers--we have an exhaustive appraisal of all the upcoming movie musicals. And anyone who loves Sondheim should track down--on various platforms--the deliriously fun James Lapine HBO doc "Six by Sondheim."  


  • cadavra | June 20, 2014 6:46 PMReply

    In a related story, Disney will also be producing a remake of WEST SIDE STORY, but so as not to disturb family audiences, everyone lives happily ever after and the now-reconciled Sharks and Jets all go to the malt shop for a big final production number.

  • Jenny Lens | June 19, 2014 5:47 PMReply

    Cutting out my fave parts!! It is thru darkness, suffering and loss we LEARN and GROW. Oh no.

    I ‘get’ where Sondheim is coming from… he rather see it produced than not at all. But NO Moment in the Woods??? NO Little Red Riding Hood’s sexual awakening or the Wolf talking about first grandma and then she in very erotic terms… and all these puritans don’t realize THAT Is what Little Red Riding Hood is about! GO BACK to the ORIGINAL Italian and French Court versions … WHAT a blown op … Johnny Depp could be just great as an erotic wolf. NO NO NO NO .

    THIS is my go-to music! I’m a famous punk rock photographer. I tell EVERYONE this is what I listen to more than the Ramones, Clash, Blondie, Patti Smith and so many bands whose iconic images I took. I am not surprised but mad as hell. NOW Disney rules the world. I would cast a spell on them … beware the tales we tell for that is the spell … AND if ppl think NOT talking about sex means it will go away, think again. Heartbroken but not surprised.

  • Jamie | June 19, 2014 5:38 PMReply

    These are exactly the same things I worried about when the film was announced. I will be grouchy about the movie, but I have the original on DVD so the general public can just suffer the lesser adaptation for the smaller, less active brains.

  • James M. | June 19, 2014 3:53 PMReply

    Frankly, I don't mind some of the changes. I love "Into the Woods," but I've always found the sexual intimations between Red and the Wolf to be more than a little creepy, and the Baker's Wife's affair with the Prince a touch unrealistic.

  • Jenny Lens | June 19, 2014 5:51 PM

    Prince and Baker's Wife Unrealistic? Ask any number of my female pals and myself just how right on this is! Change a prince to a rock performer or actor or artist or most any man. TOTALLY on the mark.

    Creepy? Read original versions of Little Red Riding Hood. Sondheim did his homework! He quoted from Grimm's FIRST versions, as well as earlier Italian and French Court. Those stories made their way to the Brothers Grimm.

    MIGHT wanna read up about fairy tales before feeling creeped out or think this unrealistic. It's the MOST realistic of all his musicals, of most all musicals period!

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