Two years ago I lamented that despite a resurgence in movie musicals, filmmakers did not seem bold enough to adapt any of the masterpieces from the greatest musical songwriter of all time – Stephen Sondheim. That seems to be changing with the recent announcement that Disney would be bringing Sondheim’s most famous musical, Into the Woods, to the big screen in the hands of Chicago and Nine director Rob Marshall. The initial cast announcement included Meryl Streep as The Witch, Johnny Depp as The Wolf, and James Corden as The Baker. James Lapine, the librettist who wrote the book for Sondheim’s stage musical, has written the screenplay and Marshall’s longtime partner John DeLuca will produce.
This week both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter have shed some light on other actors that may be filling out the cast. First it was reported that Chris Pine and Jake Gyllenhaal will be playing the vain princes to Cinderella and Rapunzel, two minor characters that have a few very important songs. Then a rumor was circulated that Emily Blunt has been cast as the The Baker’s Wife, essentially the female lead in this ensemble show. All three actors will be making their musical movie debuts, although Emily Blunt has done some musical theatre work on stage in the UK.
Frequent readers know that I am often cynical when studios cast big name actors who have not proven their ability to sing. Considering the poor singing was my single biggest complaint about the last movie adaptation of a Sondheim Musical, Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, I should feel particularly concerned about this latest cast lineup. However, I am actually going to remain optimistic because this show is in the hands of Disney, the studio with one of the best track records for producing movie musicals. While I do wish that the Into the Woods cast was as Broadway friendly as Disney’s upcoming animated film Frozen, I am still hopeful.
Let’s take a closer look at the cast, shall we?
Role: THE WITCH – A scheming old woman who antagonizes various characters and ties the plot threads together. She has placed a curse on the Baker’s family preventing him and his wife from having children because she caught someone stealing her magic beans. She has also captured the Baker’s father’s child, Rapunzel, and locked her in a tower. She will only lift the curse if the baker can provide ingredients for a special potion.
Judgement: Meryl certainly has the gravitas to pull off this iconic role that has been performed by Broadway legends like Bernadette Peters and Julia McKenzie. Meryl sang for the films Mamma Mia! and A Prairie Home Companion, but neither performance required much belting. The role requires more acting ability than singing ability, so even if Meryl’s voice isn’t up to the task, she will at least be able to sell the pure scheming evil of The Witch.
Song She Will Sing: “The Last Midnight”
Role: THE WOLF – A big, bad character who misleads Little Red Riding Hood so he can get to her grandmother’s house first and eat the old woman. His plan is foiled when The Baker interferes.
Judgement: I was not a fan of Depp’s performance in Sweeney Todd because I didn’t think he gave the songs the vocal power they deserved. However, The Wolf is a minor character without much singing who can really steal the first half of the show if the right actor is cast. Depp should be able to pull it off, especially if a strong Red Riding Hood is cast who can match wits with him.
Song He Will Sing: “Hello Little Girl”
Role: THE BAKER – The eager young baker who goes on a mission to find items for The Witch’s potion so that he and his wife may conceive a child. He encounters most of the other characters along his way including Red Riding Hood and Jack.
Judgement: This may be the casting decision I am most excited about as Corden is a much-lauded star of both the London and American stage. He won the Tony Award for Best Lead Actor in Play for his riotous performance in One Man, Two Guvnors and he has demonstrated his singing ability in musicals and on television. American audiences may not be familiar with Corden, but after this film they should be.
Song He Will Sing: “It Takes Two”
Role: THE BAKER’S WIFE – Character who helps her husband find items for The Witch’s potion and gets caught in a love triangle when she meets and gets seduced by Cinderella’s Prince.
Judgement: I’ve generally liked Emily Blunt in every performance of hers I’ve seen and think she will do well with this well-meaning, but morally conflicted character. Blunt has always had a theatrical quality to her (which has fit brilliantly in films like The Young Victoria or The Devil Wears Prada) and although I’ve never heard her sing, she is reportedly quite good. She doesn’t often get the lead role in most of her films, so it will be interesting to see if she can carry this.
Song She Will Sing: “Moments in the Woods”
Roles: CINDERLLA’S PRINCE and RAPUNZEL’S PRINCE – Two privileged young princes who long for love until they achieve it and quickly become bored with their marriages and seek other affairs.
Judgement: In terms of performance ability, Gyllenhaal and Pine seem like no brainers for these parts because both always seem to have a cocky quality underneath their performances that makes them more interesting. The big question, though, is whether or not they can sing. They have at least one song that requires some major belting and could derail the show if they aren’t up to it.
Song They Will Sing: “Agony”
There are many other significant roles in this show that have not been cast yet including Red Riding Hood and Jack. Also, I didn’t talk much about Rob Marshall, but I’m hesitant to endorse him as director considering Chicago is the only film of his that I like (and I certainly have reservations about it). Hopefully the performances will elevate Into the Woods to something worthy of Sondheim’s genius.
What do you think of the parts that have been cast so far? Will Disney’s Into the Woods be a good Sondheim adaptation?