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on March 5, 2015
I was first introduced to Into the Woods by a local high school drama production and I immediately became fascinated. I discovered a filmed Broadway version (in full, for free) on You Tube. It was wonderful. Bernadette Peters is fabulous. There is really none like her. I admit to being more than a little disappointed by the new film version and while I adore Meryl Streep she doesn't come close to Bernadette Peters. The power in her voice is incredible. The rest of the cast is simply wonderful and they pull off this quirky musical perfectly. I doubt I'm alone in saying that Agony (both versions) are my favourite songs in this, the princes are the perfect comedy relief, I actually wish there was a bit more of their rivalry in the play but it's a long one so I guess they can only do so much. This musical explores relationships between parents and children, couples, the desire for independence as children grow and their psychological and sexual maturity, loss as well as wish fulfillment. On the surface, this seems like silly twist on fairy tales but underneath is some pretty heavy subject matter and that's what drew me so strongly to this musical.

I saw a few negative reviews on here from people who had bought the album without ever seeing the production. I'm not sure that's wise and I'd strongly suggest seeking out the filmed version, you can buy it here on Amazon or watch it, in full, for free, on You Tube. I recommend it over the new Disney film because they changed the story around and the musical loses much of its impact because of that.

I mentioned Bernadette Peters but I must also mention Tony winner Joanna Gleason who is simply phenomenal as the Baker's Wife. Danielle Ferland is great as Little Red Riding Hood. The princes are played by Chuck Wagner and Robert Westenberg as Rapunzel and Cinderella's princes respectively with all the pomposity of princes who were raised to be nothing but charming. Westenberg also doubles as the Wolf. Chip Zien is the Baker, Ben Wright is Jack and Kim Crosby is Cinderella. Tom Aldredge is the narrator (and the strange man in the woods) and you will hear his voice throughout the musical as he guides the viewer through the story. Act 1 is fairly light hearted and humorous (if you discount Little Red Riding Hood and what happens to her, there's nothing funny about that). Act 2 is much darker. A lot of people don't care for Act 2. My feeling is that because Act 2 shines a light on the ugliness of human behaviour, because it is sad and full of loss, that people tend to be turned off by it. They want the happy endings that don't exist here. It absolutely doesn't fall flat, as some suggest, but it does take on a much darker tone as the characters struggle with the differences between right and wrong (and the most important notion, that one person's right is someone else's wrong) and loss, both loss of relationships but also loss through death as the lyric says, "Sometimes people leave us, halfway through the woods" (this part gets me crying every time). Most of my favourite songs are actually in Act 2, "Lament", "Last Midnight" and "No One Is Alone" along with humorous second version of "Agony".

I highly recommend this musical but approach it with an open mind as it's a little different from the other musicals out there. That is part of its charm if you're open to it.

Since I didn't see it listed on the product itself, here's a track listing:
1. Prologue: Into The Woods - Cast
2. Cinderella At The Grave - Kim Crosby, Merle Louise
3. Hello, Little Girl - Danielle Ferland, Robert Westenberg
4. I Guess This Is Goodbye / Maybe They're Magic - Joanna Gleason, Ben Wright, Chip Zien
5. I Know Things Now - Danielle Ferland
6. A Very Nice Prince / First Midnight / Giants In The Sky - Kim Crosby, Joanna Gleason, Ben Wright
7. Agony - Chuck Wagner, Robert Westenberg
8. It Takes Two - Joanna Gleason, Chip Zien
9. Stay With Me - Bernadette Peters, Pamela Winslow
10. On The Steps Of The Palace - Kim Crosby
11. Ever After - Tom Aldredge
12. Act 2. Prologue: So Happy - Tom Aldredge
13. Agony II - Chuck Wagner, Robert Westenberg
14. Lament - Bernadette Peters
15. Any Moment / Moments in the Woods - Joanna Gleason, Robert Westenberg
16. Your Fault / Last Midnight - Kim Crosby, Danielle Ferland, Bernadette Peters, Ben Wright, Chip Zien
17. No More - Tom Aldredge, Chip Zien
18. No One Is Alone - Kim Crosby, Danielle Ferland, Ben Wright, Chip Zien
19. Finale: Children Will Listen - Bernadette Peters
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on January 30, 2004
Another splendid original cast recording from RCA Victor. This was one of their early digital recordings and the sound on the CD could not be bettered. As a bonus, a few short sections of the score that were cut from the show in previews have been restored for the recording.
The whole cast here is as perfect as one could wish for. Joanna Gleason won the Tony for Best Actress, deservedly so. No one has ever sung "Moments in the Woods" as well. Bernadette is wonderful as the Witch...the only recorded Witch to show all the character's colors! Kim Crosby is a fine Cinderella navigating her way through the thicket of lyrics in "On the Steps of the Palace."
Sondheim's lyrics are both playful and thoughtful. (A personal favorite quote: "Oh if life were only moments/Even Now and Then a bad one/But if life were only moments/Then you'd never know you'd had one!") As always much more to think about than your average musical...and therefore the disc stands up to repeated listenings.
The music too, is sometimes simple and lovely ("Children will Listen"; "No One is alone"); sometimes richly dramatic ("Last Midnight", "Lament") and occasionally too clever for its own good ("I know Things Now", "It Takes Two") but always in perfect keeping with the characters and the story. There is a good reason why this score won the 1988 Tony award over Lloyd Webber's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA!
PHANTOM has some lovely melodies, but many dull and boring passages, and the lyrics might as well have came out of an aeresol can! A good Broadway score combines music and lyrics effectively to tell a story ... and that is what the score of INTO THE WOODS does.
There is a video available on VHS and DVD that preserves the original cast in an enjoyable, though somewhat over-the-top performance. The video was taped in the theatre near the end of the show's two year run, while this original cast album was made just 4 days after the show's triumphant premiere. Enjoy both!
Avoid the awful London cast...the cover art is the best thing about that recording. The 2002 revival cast was enjoyable on stage, but the recording fails to capture the fun. Why settle for second best? Stick with the perfect original cast!
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on May 24, 1999
Into the Woods is, undoubtedly, one of my favourite musicals. The deep, heartfelt allegory that is Into the Woods is rich in double entendre, and humour that cuts right to the bone. The music itself is remarkable and runs with perfection in and out of the story and speech. The fact is that Into the Woods, whether you appreciate the music or not, touches on aspects of life everybody has to encounter and so we can relate to. This particular recording is superb. Nothing could ever take away from Bernadette Peters' remarkable performance as the witch but it would be unfair to say the other performances were average, as I read earlier, all were brilliant and a credit to James Lapines wonderfully witty dialogue. Into the Woods is probably the most underrated musical of our age, in my opinion deserved of equal recognition to Follies and the like. Of all the musicals I have ever heard Into the Woods has won my affection over all of them. This CD, of other recordings I've bought, captures beautifully Sondheims astonishing music. If you don't buy this CD your one tree short of a full wood.
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on June 4, 2003
The original "Into the Woods" was, is and always will be not just one of Stephen Sondheim's best works, but one of the most memorable Broadway musicals of the past fifty years...and that's saying something. The very idea of fairy tale characters getting lost in their own stories and having to work together to find their way out is quite clever. How they do this is strikingly executed by a brilliant cast performing Sondheim's lush score. "Into the Woods", "Ever After" and "So Happy" are distinct ensemble pieces that wrap around the story to guide you along the way. That leaves plenty of room for the character songs, many of which constitute Sondheim at his best. Example, "Giants in the Sky", Jack's reverie upon his return from the beanstalk, is both euphoric and ominous, a harbinger of things to come. "Stay With Me" is the witch's plea to Rapunzel, and its theme of longing is achingly etched by Bernadette Peters. In fact, Peters is in fine form throughout this CD, and her bewildered, flawed witch becomes less sinister and more likeably human as the story progresses. Though some have called this character poorly developed, she actually anchors the show and is the voice of truth throughout. Only an artist of Peters' stature could pull this off, and she displays all of the talents that have made her the preeminent Broadway musical actress of the past 25 years. She proves here that she is easily in the same league as Merman, Martin, Verdon and Lansbury...heady comapny indeed. The rest of the cast is equally memorable for the most part, though Joanna Gleason (her Tony winning performance) is sometimes a bit too obvious in telegraphing her effects. Still, she and Chip Zien make a memorable "Baker and His Wife" and they provide some of the most fertile comedic moments in the show (some of it, admittedly, lost on the cast recording). Ultimately, "Into the Woods" fulfills in both enchanting and moving the listener with its wistful message that "Children Will Listen" (so be careful what you say) but that, in an unpredictable world, "No One is Alone". Lovely.
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on July 2, 1998
Sondheim's delightful way with words brings classic childhood fairy tales to new life, but beware -- the tales he tells derive from the original, NOT Disney, versions. The twist here is that he offers an answer to the rarely asked, and never-answered, question: What actually happens "ever after", and is it necessarily "happily"? Is Cinderella's Prince an honest-to-God (or the only) Prince Charming? If Jack must slay a giant to save his own hide, would the giant's wife accept that as self-defense? And what of a person's mental stability when facing the real world after being locked in a tower her entire life, with only her golden hair as access to other human beings?
The songs are as intricately interwoven as the tales are themselves, as all characters (more than just those named above) eventually cross each other's paths. Some individual lyrics fall into the trap of, "Well, it rhymes, even if it doesn't make much sense", and we do get a bit banged over the head with some of the more cautionary/morality-based tales. But all in all, the musical is tightly written, infused with quandary and self-questioning, and a lot of humor. (Personal favorites are the Wolf's "Hello Little Girl" and the Princes' equally disturbing "Agony".)
Plus, they're fairy tales! They're always fun!
Of course, the show in its entirety (i.e., ON VIDEO) is more fulfilling, but even just on CD, the remarkable performances stand out. Each time, I marvel at a performer to whom I hadn't previously given enough credit. I've seen and heard it so many times now, the next people on my list must necessarily be the lighting technicians.
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on May 5, 2004
My children and I are such a fan of musicals as a genre but, "Into the Woods" has become hands-down a family favorite. Ms. Peters is outstanding as usual, but this is truly her best performance ever. This particular style displays her campy demeanor to its best while at the same time drawing from a poignant place within her soul in "Children Will Listen."
It's truly a show the whole family can enjoy. Children will enjoy the fairy tales woven throughout while adults are able to appreciate the nuances of humor which are abundant. It is definately a new twist to the fairy tales of old.
Joanna Gleason shines just as bright as Ms. Peters with her portrayal of the Baker's wife. Kim Crosby is wonderful as Cinderella. The rest of the cast gave stellar performances. The portrayal of Rapunzel was not quite in the same class as the rest of the cast, but was still good.
There are so many good moments within this cd: "Agony," "It Takes Two," "Moments in the Wood" and my personal favorite "Last Midnight."
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on January 18, 2001
INTO THE WOODS is my favorite musical ever. It introduced me to my favorite composer, Stephen Sondheim. The acclaimed composer of other profound musicals such as SWEENEY TODD and PACIFIC OVERTURES, this is his most famous- reaching people from all ages. INTO THE WOODS is a wonderfully realized fractured fairytale, mixing together a number of children's fairytales: from Jack and the Beanstalk to Little Red Ridinghood. It is profound and is laced by frequent morals. This show portrays the fairytale, and the consequences for certain actions the characters take. Stealing from giants is just as wrong as stealing from people- and after murderering some"one", Jack has to face the result of his engraved faults. Apart from this in-depth look at certain fairytales, this musical sends dozens of great morals that portray the flaws and cruelty of characters, even the most lovable fantasy characters such as Cinderella. With a few twists, this is a shocking musical- a dark narrative on the shedded human characters(Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack, etc.) leaving their protective fairy land where they are pure hero or heroine. The tables are turned and Sondheim and Lapine wonderfully create a fable full of witty dialogue, catchy tunes, and heart-wrenching themes. INTO THE WOODS begins with a ideal fairy-tale, a happy, adventurous look at a baker and his wife's journey to retrieve four object- a cow as white as milk(Jack), a slipper as pure as gold(Cinderella), a cape a red as blood(Little Red Ridinghood) and hair as yellow as corn(Repunzal). It ends happily ever after- then the second act comes and the characters are exposed to real life- full of grief, torture, and reprimand. It seems hopeless until there is optimism leant to us when the characters realize their faults and their enemies virtues. Joanna Gleason won the Tony for Best Actress, portraying the logical Baker's Wife. The talented Bernadette Peters plays the witch wonderfully too. Jack is played by Ben Wright(recommended too), the hilarious Danielle Ferdland as the sarcastic Little Red Ridinghood, Robert Westenberg, also hilarious as the "Charming, not sincere" Prince, and a enjoyable Chip Zein as the baker. Higlights include "Your Fault", Joanna Gleasons wonderfully sung "Moment in the Woods", and the unforgettably powerful "Last Midnight" The theme is incredibly creative- it creates the mood of the play, the most popular song "Children Will Listen" topping it off at the end. I love the return of the alive and even dead characters in the end- I think it is creative and endearing. This is a wonderful musical- I think it should've won Best Musical, though I like Phantom of the Opera, too.
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on June 2, 1999
I LUV, LUV, LUV this musical. Sondheim is absolutly brilliant. I had the chance to play Little Red Ridinghood this Feb., and it's the best part i've ever had in a musical. It was soooo much fun. The music was well orchistrated and had great underlying rhythms as opposed to the flowing melodies of the voices and wind instruments. But, I can't forget the beauty the string instuments in No One Is Alone. The voices were wonderful, however, Bernedette Peters' vocalizations were unmatched by any other performer, showcased highly in It's the Last Midnight. The play is one that has so much deeper meaning throughout while still maintaining a childish sense of humor keeping the youth entertained. However, in order to sing this spectacular score, it is important that you have a wide voice range. Sondheim tends to write his music for those with a 2 1/2 to 5 octave voice. If you have the chance to act in this, I say GO FOR IT. It is the most fun i've ever had in the theater. And Little Red is the best! (next to the witch!)
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on July 11, 2002
I recently saw a local high school production of INTO THE WOODS, and it was far from impressive. However, despite the fact that the production itself was lackluster, I immediately became aware of how powerful the musical itself really was. That just goes to show how fascinating INTO THE WOODS is--I immediately had to buy the soundtrack because I couldn't get the songs out of my head.
The show features a variety of familiar characters from fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack from "Jack and the Beanstalk") and throws them together as they wander through a dark, twisted forest, crossing paths as each tries desperately to get what he or she wishes for. At the end of Act 1, everyone has gotten his or her wish and assumes that they will live happily ever after...but in Act 2, they find that their happiness is fleeting and their dreams begin collapsing around them.
This is a musical that truly plays up all of the fear, complexities, and innuendoes of classic fairy tales. Sondheim gives us the real, unexpurgated versions of the stories we know from childhood, reminding us of their startling violence and sexual themes. The musical deals with adultery, revenge, and sexual awakening. This is very much a DARK show, and while it does have plenty of humor, that's dark, too.
The music itself is simply sublime, the lyrics simple yet put together to create amazingly complex harmonies and counterpoints. The title number is merry yet slightly menacing. "Agony," sung by two lustful princes, is a haunting duet. "Last Midnight" provides Bernadette Peters with her moment to shine as the Witch, who goes from gruesome to glamorous (her other memorable moment, however, is her very clever "rap" number early in the show). The baker's wife, played by Joanna Gleason, performs an emotional "Moments in the Woods," in which she contemplates a spur-of-the-moment affair. And the finale, which consists of the beautiful "Children will Listen" followed by a reprise of the title song, is the perfect ending to the show.
This recording is, quite simply, the best available. Every member of the cast is strong and there isn't a single thing that can be complained about.
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on January 9, 2002
Years before 'Shrek', Stephen Sondheim raided familiar fairy-tale lore and jumbled beloved characters - Cinderella, , Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack of Beanstalk fame, a Wicked Witch, amongst others - into the same, semi-ironic story. In a manner akin to 'The Princess Bride', the old stories are told with a modern consciousness, and when these musty archetypes begin to think and dream and desire like we do, chaos is likely.
The first act treats the fairy tale as Perrault might have known it - quests as metaphors for puberty, socialisation, marriage, family, fertility etc. And all ends happily ever after, with the woods as a space in which the journey from childhood to adulthood, from indiviualism to the social order is negotiated - Riding Hood's 'I Know Things Now' being eloquent of the psychic journeys being undertaken throughout (although the sexual iconoclasm of Angela Carter's 'The Bloody Chamber' is avoided).
What sufficed for the hierarchies of Perrault's time, however, will not necessarily do for us, and Act 2 extends the notion of the woods into the Shakespearean sense, where more complex ideas about identity, gender, social roles and sexuality are played out. The conclusions here are much more fraught and provisional, less tidily closed off.
Unfortunately, the musical here begins to get less interesting. It's hard to top the amazing prologue, in which all the characters and their leitmotifs are introduced with bustling bravado. the music throughout is as supple and subtle as extended recitif, underlying or commenting on the action, full of witty colour and unexpected lyricism. The words are pure pleasure, humorously mocking our expectations of fairy tale characters, yet richly true to their inner lives. Without ever descending into mere verbal pyrotechnics, Sondheim's vocabulary opens up a light, flexible space for the characters, ideas and spectators to move around in. The tone, even in the more sombre sequences is generally comic and deflating (the book itself, judging by the booklet's synopsis, seems much darker). By the middle of Act Two, however, the comedy has given way to extended moral homilies full of earnest sentiments and dull music. And, maybe it's just me, but this slick, over-articulate style of Broadway singing is not to my taste.
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