Sunday, October 24, 2010

God, That’s Good!



It’s been quite a while since I’ve made a movie recommendation and this one stems from the University of Michigan’s performance this weekend of Steven Sondheim’s Into the Woods (I’m counting this as a movie even though it is just a filmed version of the original Broadway cast, but the fact that you can watch it on DVD is my justification). U of M is known throughout the country for having one of the top musical theater programs and the entire four years I went to school there I secretly wished they would have done a production of what is my favorite Sondheim show.  So, naturally they do it the first semester I am gone.  Wah wah!

Like my previous selections The Fall and Clue, I have seen this waaaay too many times to count in the last decade (at least three times a year). The show itself, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, premiered on the Great White Way in 1987 with Bernadette Peters as the Witch and the absurdly fantastic Joanna Gleason as the Baker’s wife. Act I of the show deals with the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Bean Stalk, Little Red Riding Hood, a young baker and his wife all wishing in different ways for their lives to be better.  Act II focuses on what happens after “happily ever after.”  And we’re not talking the Disney incarnations, either… this is Grimm in many definitions of the word.

I say it is my favorite, but to choose a favorite show by Stephen Sondheim is like asking if Mel Gibson prefers beer, liquor or turpentine: “THEY’RE ALL SO GOOD, now clean up this hamburger grease from my chin!!” I will say, though, that by the nature of being a fairy tale I feel like this show has the greatest opportunity for Sondheim the wordsmith to deliver some quite amazing perspectives on the human experience.  In essence this is a show that everyone can relate to because so many different facets of humanity are represented along with the joys and challenges that accompany them.  Isn’t that what fairy tales are after all: adult lessons being taught to children veiled in fanciful stories?  Also, ANY chance to see Bernadette Peters rapping about vegetables is kind of a must see.

If I could specialize in ANY kind of composer it would hands down be Sondheim.  His text is like a veritable Rubik’s cube of witty repartee and wisdom and his music is just as intriguing and complicated.  Every time I listen to it I hear a new rhyme or evolution of a theme. The only other composer I listen to in a similar way is Benjamen Britten, and even he didn’t write his own libretti.

In which I provide the lyrics (or parts of) to six of the songs:

Little Red Riding Hood after escaping from the Wolf: “I Know Things Now”

And I know things now,
Many valuable things,
That I hadn't known before:
Do not put your faith
In a cape and a hood,
They will not protect you
The way that they should.
And take extra care with strangers,
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.

Now I know:
Don't be scared.
Granny is right,
Just be prepared.
Isn't it nice to know a lot!

And a little bit not…

Cinderella deciding what to do “On the Steps of the Palce”

He's a very smart Prince,
He's a Prince who prepares.
Knowing this time I'd run from him,
He spread pitch on the stairs.
I was caught unawares.
And I thought: well, he cares-

This is more than just malice.
Better stop and take stock
While you're standing here stuck
On the steps of the palace.

You think, what do you want?
You think, make a decision.
Why not stay and be caught?
You think, well, it's a thought,
What would be his response?
But then what if he knew
Who you were when you know
That you're not what he thinks
That he wants?

And then what if you are?
What a Prince would envision?
Although how can you know
Who you are till you know
What you want, which you don't?
So then which do you pick:
Where you're safe, out of sight,
And yourself, but where everything's wrong?
Or where everything's right
And you know that you'll never belong?

And whichever you pick,
Do it quick,
'Cause you're starting to stick
To the steps of the palace.

It's your first big decision,
The choice isn't easy to make.
To arrive at a ball
Is exciting and all-
Once you're there, though, it's scary.
And it's fun to deceive
When you know you can leave,
But you have to be wary.
There's a lot that's at stake,
But you've stalled long enough,
'Cause you're still standing stuck
In the stuff on the steps...

Better run along home
And avoid the collision.
Even though they don't care,
You'll be better of there
Where there's nothing to choose,
So there's nothing to lose.
So you pry up your shoes.
Then from out of the blue,
And without any guide,
You know what your decision is,
Which is not to decide.
You'll leave him a clue:
For example, a shoe.
And then see what he'll do.

Now it's he and not you
Who is stuck with a shoe,
In a stew,
in the goo,
And you've learned something, too,
Something you never knew,
On the steps of the palace.

The Baker’s wife after having a tryst with a prince in the woods: “A Moment in the Woods”

Just a moment,
One peculiar passing moment...
Must it all be either less or more,
Either plain or grand?
Is it always "or"?
Is it never "and"?
That's what woods are for:
For those moments in the woods...

Oh. if life were made of moments,
Even now and then a bad one-!
But if life were only moments,
Then you'd never know you had one.

Let the moment go...
Don't forget it for a moment, though.
Just remembering you've had and "and",
When you're back to "or",
Makes the "or" mean more
Than it did before.
Now I understand-

And it's time to leave the woods.

The Witch, pointing out the other character’s hypocracy: “The Last Midnight”

You're so nice.
You're not good,
You're not bad,
You're just nice.
I'm not good,
I'm not nice,
I'm just right.
I'm the Witch.
You're the world.

I'm the hitch.
I'm what no one believes,
I'm the Witch.
You're all liars and theives,
Like his father,
Like his son will be, too-
Oh, why bother?
You'll just do what you do.



A note to parents: “Children Will Listen”

Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do,
Children will see.
And learn.

Children may not obey,
But children will listen.
Children will look to you
For which way to turn,
To learn what to be.

Careful before you say,
"Listen to me."
Children will listen.

Careful the wish you make,
Wishes are children.
Careful the path they take-
Wishes come true,
Not free.

Careful the spell you cast,
Not just on children.
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you see
And turn against you...

Careful the tale you tell.
That is the spell.
Children will listen...

Finale: “Into the Woods (Reprise)”

Though it's fearful,
Though it's deep, though it's dark
And though you may lose the path,
Though you may encounter wolves,
You can't just act,
You have to listen.
You can't just act
You have to think.

Though it's dark,
There are always wolves,
There are always spells,
There are always beans,
Or a Giant dwells there.

So it's
Into the woods
You go again,
You have to
Every now and then.
Into the woods,
No telling when,
Be ready for the journey.

Into the woods,
But not too fast
Or what you wish
You lose at last.
Into the woods, but mind the past.
Into the woods, but mind the future.
Into the woods, but not to stray,
Or tempt the Wolf or steal from the Giant-
The way is dark,
The light is dim,
But now there's you,
Me, her and him.
The chances look small,
The choices look grim,
But everything you learn there
Will help when you return there.

Into the woods-
You have to grope,
But that's the way
You learn to cope.
Into the woods
To find there's hope
Of getting through the journey.

Into the woods-
Each time you go,
There's more to learn
Of what you know.
Into the woods, but not too slow-
Into the woods, it's nearing midnight-
Into the woods to mind the Wolf,
To heed the Witch,
To honor the Giant,
To mind,
To heed,
To find,
To think,
To teach,
To join,
To go to the Festival!

Anyone still hangin’ in there with me?  I’ll admit that even as great as the lyrics are, when placed in perspective with the rest of the show and accompanied by music, they’re buh-mazingness is only proliferated.  So I really recommend taking the time to watch this show… I think you’ll be a better human being as a result.


Artist: Stephen Sondheim/ Album: Sweeney Todd

PS. I wanted to show clips from the video but they are blocked from youtube by the publisher, so just rent it already!


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