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Into the Woods: Original Broadway Production Blu-ray Review

Into the Woods: Original Broadway Production Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Into the Woods

Original Air Date: March 15, 1991 (Filmed May 1989) / Running Time: 152 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: James Lapine / Writers: Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics), James Lapine (book)

Cast: Bernadette Peters (The Witch), Chip Zien (Baker), Joanna Gleason (Baker's Wife), Tom Aldredge (Narrator/Mysterious Man), Robert Westenberg (Wolf, Cinderella's Prince), Kim Crosby (Cinderella), Danielle Ferland (Little Red Riding Hood), Ben Wright (Jack), Barbara Bryne (Jack's Mother), Pamela Winslow (Rapunzel), Chuck Wagner (Rapunzel's Prince), Merle Louise (Grandmother, Cinderella's Mother, Giant), Kay McClelland (Florinda), Philip Hoffman (Steward), Lauren Mitchell (Lucinda), Joy Franz (Cinderella's Stepmother), Edmund Lydeck (Cinderella's Father), Cindy Robinson (Snow White), Maureen Davis (Sleeping Beauty)

1.33:1 Full Screen (Original Aspect Ratio) / DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Blu-ray Release Date: December 2, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $24.98
Also available on DVD ($24.98 SRP; October 7, 2014) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released on DVD (August 27, 1997)

Buy Into the Woods from Amazon.com: Blu-ray • DVD • Instant Video

Image Entertainment could not have picked a better time to bring Into the Woods to Blu-ray than now, mere weeks before Disney's major new motion picture adaptation opens in theaters.
Might some customers be confused? It's possible. It's also possible that those who see the movie will then appreciate seeing the stage musical on which it is based with the original cast.

As the cover art should make clear (but maybe not in passing), the Into the Woods I'm reviewing here is the Original Broadway Production. Featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book and direction by James Lapine, the show premiered in San Diego at the end of 1986. It opened in New York in November 1987 and proceeded to win three Tonys and five Drama Desk awards. On Labor Day weekend 1989, the musical closed on Broadway while still making the rounds in a national tour. Earlier that year, in May, the entire original Broadway cast (save for one actor in an extremely minor role) reunited for a single performance. It was filmed and two years later, it was broadcast on PBS' "American Playhouse" anthology series.

That televised production came to DVD in the infancy of that format: August 1997, on the eve of a tenth anniversary benefit performance. Last month, Image Entertainment gave it a new DVD release with more striking (and frankly, film-like) artwork. Next week, it reaches Blu-ray, hitting that high definition format three or four months before the big budget, award-aspiring film featuring Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, James Corden, Chris Pine, and Anna Kendrick makes it to stores.

In "Into the Woods", The Witch (Bernadette Peters) explains the nature of her infertility curse and the conditions under which she'll reverse it. The Wolf (Rosten Westernberg) makes his move on obnoxious snacker Little Red Riding Hood (Danielle Ferland).

Into the Woods spins a single narrative out of a number of familiar fairy tales. An onstage narrator (Tom Aldredge) makes sense out of how these stories connect everything from Little Red Riding Hood to Jack and the Beanstalk to Cinderella. Our primary focus is on a baker (Chip Zien) and his wife (Joanna Gleason), who have had no success in conceiving a child. The reason for that is the couple has been cursed by a witch (Bernadette Peters) over an old family grudge. She is willing to lift the curse and restore fertility if the couple can give her four items she needs for a potion: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper pure as gold.

Acquiring and holding on to those four ingredients is no easy task for the baker and his wife. They do manage to trade "magic" beans to farm boy Jack (Ben Wright) in exchange for his beloved milk-white cow. A gold slipper comes from Cinderella (Kim Crosby) whose late mother's spirit transforms her from overworked servant to beautiful princess who will attend multiple balls and attract a prince (Robert Westenberg). The story also involves the impossibly long-haired Rapunzel (Pamela Winslow), who has been raised as a tower recluse by the Witch posing as her mother, and the oft-snacky Little Red Riding Hood (Danielle Ferland), whose visit to her grandmother leads, of course, to a deceptive big bad wolf (also Westenberg).

In Act II, these assorted townspeople come together to hatch a defense plan against a widowed lady giant intent on getting revenge on the boy who killed her husband by chopping down a beanstalk.

The Baker's Wife (Joanna Gleason) shows her husband (Chip Zien) the hair as yellow as corn she got from Rapunzel. Made over into a princess, Cinderella (Kim Crosby) turns princes' heads.

Into the Woods is generally beloved by those who know it and more so than Sondheim's other musicals, which include Sweeney Todd, Company, and Gypsy. It is a very theatrical show, one full of songs which not only advance the story but show off the ample vocal talents of the cast.
It is first and foremost a comedy, although its humor is very narrowly tailored to theatergoer tastes. The jokes can be quite broad, but they do not have the broad appeal of, say, a Shrek movie or Tangled. The show's funniest moments involve irony and in the shattering of theatre conventions, as in the evolving role of our omniscient host who isn't as removed from the stories he tells as we assume.

Disney's movie just held its first screening over the weekend to favorable reactions, though embargoes will keep full reviews under wraps for a while longer. The film is directed by Rob Marshall, who got his start on Broadway, first as a performer and then as a choreographer and eventually director. Marshall transitioned to television in the late '90s, handling choreography and eventually direction on movie adaptations of shows like Victor/Victoria, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, and Annie. Marshall couldn't have asked for a stronger debut in theatrical feature films: his 2002 Chicago was a box office hit and winner of six Academy Awards including Best Picture. Since that, the filmmaker has alternated between musicals and non-musicals, striking out with the critically-derided/underrated flop Nine and not faring a whole lot better on the songless Memoirs of a Geisha and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, both of which failed to recoup their significant budgets domestically.

Marshall's spotty track record has made Into the Woods one of the wild cards of the award season. The Christmas Day opening makes clear it has ambitions, but it remains to be seen whether it ends up being a commercial crowd-pleaser, a major Oscar contender, both or neither. At the very least, the movie should score some recognition in the Academy's technical categories and in the Golden Globes' Comedy or Musical fields.

Even if the results are as positive as they (undeservedly) were on Marshall's Chicago, true musical theatre lovers will almost certainly prefer the purity of the stage version to the presumably cinematic, visual effects-heavy film. I'm convinced there is room for both, as the Broadway production's songs fail to keep me fully invested in the convoluted story for the interminable 2½-hour runtime (which the movie will reportedly condense to just over two hours). Some of the bite of the play may be toned for a PG-rated Disney movie (I think it's safe to say we won't be seeing the Wolf's genitals). While that wasn't the approach taken on Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd seven Christmases ago, that R-rated movie grossed just $50 million domestically and $100 M overseas, numbers far below than the Mamma Mia! and Les Misιrables-type numbers Disney is expecting.

In Act II, The Witch (Bernadette Peters) has lost her powers but restored her beauty. Our narrator (Tom Aldredge) discovers he's more involved than realized in the story he's telling.


Per the standards of the time, Into the Woods was shot on video and therefore lacks the detail of film. It's also shot 1.33:1, so about a quarter of Blu-ray's resolution goes to the black side bars of the 16:9 frame and the wide-staged compositions are rarely as strongly photographed as they should be.
Image has done all they could and should do to make this look its best. But its best may still disappoint those accustomed to dazzling 1080p video. There's an innate fuzziness to the picture most noticeable on long shots that no restoration work can hide. Closer shots, which aren't all that common given the nature of theatre, look better, but it's always clear you're watching something that was shot for television long before the digital age. There's also one minor but noticeable funky edit and a continuity error involving Cinderella's cheek cleanliness suggesting this taping didn't all come from one single performance.

Similarly, the soundtrack cannot uncover any power that wasn't in the original recording. The 2.0 stereo mix is presented in the lossless DTS-HD master audio format. But it certainly won't rival the mix that Rob Marshall's film will likely provide. The sound is as crisp as it can be and fairly dynamic. No English or other subtitles are included.

Into the woods and out of the woods, the menu demonstrates how this musical continues to be joined by no bonus features.


As on its two DVD releases, Into the Woods is not joined by any bonus features, not even trailers for other titles. Image Entertainment is not a studio known
for its bonus features and after seventeen years of bringing this program to disc on its own, it seems safe to say they unfortunately don't have rights to any supplements of relevance to this production.

The menu has the cover artwork give way to a montage of video clips set to one of the countless iterations of the title song. This Region A Blu-ray does not support bookmarks, but does resume unfinished playback of the feature presentation.

The side-snapped keepcase is not joined by insert or slipcover. Its disc label fittingly adapts the new cover art.

The mostly original Broadway cast of "Into the Woods" assumes a final pose before the lights go down.


The odds are great that some people who love the stage musical Into the Woods will be disappointed by the new movie. This Blu-ray is the disc for them, preserving a performance by essentially the entire original Broadway cast in the highest quality home video allows. The presentation is limited by the production techniques; the gains in picture and sound over even the nearly 20-year-old DVD seem pretty mild. That and the continued lack of any extras and even subtitles prevent this release from being as an exciting as it might have been.

Buy Into the Woods from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Music by Stephen Sondheim: Gypsy • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street • Dick Tracy
Directed by James Lapine: Life with Mikey | Joanna Gleason: Crimes and Misdemeanors • Last Vegas • Sex and the City
Bernadette Peters: Annie (1982) • The Muppet Show: Season Two | New: Jersey Boys • Begin Again • Maleficent
Once Upon a Mattress • Tangled • Ella Enchanted • Frozen • Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season
Chicago • Nine • Dreamgirls • Newsies • Mary Poppins • The Sound of Music • Oliver! • Funny Girl
Jack the Giant Slayer • The Brothers Grimm • Cinderella • Red Riding Hood

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Reviewed November 24, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1990 Brandman Productions, Inc., 1991 American Playhouse and 2014 RLJ Entertainment, Image Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.