"Into the Woods" well worth the time

Classic fairy tales like "Jack and the Beanstalk" are showcased with a modern twist in "Into the Woods," which stars Daniel Huttlestone as Jack and Tracey Ullman as his mother. In theaters Dec. 25, 2014. (Peter Mountain/Disney)
Classic fairy tales like “Jack and the Beanstalk” are showcased with a modern twist in “Into the Woods,” which stars Daniel Huttlestone as Jack and Tracey Ullman as his mother. “Into the Woods” is now playing in most theaters. (Source: Peter Mountain/Disney)

Laced with fairytale antics, just the right amount of star-studding and vocals that even this musicophile can enjoy, the recent fairytale mashup creation by Steven Sondheim was a total thumbs-up.

Take an over-worked scullery maid, a dim-witted little boy and his frazzled mother, a little girl with a penchant for childhood diabetes, a witchy old lady and a young couple desperate to never get a good night’s sleep, squish it together with award-winning music, and the result is Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.”

One pitfall of this kind of Broadway-turned-Hollywood show is that producers and casting directors tend to star-stud the cast as insurance. If the show isn’t good enough to draw crowds, maybe an attractive list of stars can.

At first glance, it seemed that’s exactly what happened, but, thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

Yes, there are big names on the cast list, but they aren’t just for show. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a woman of Meryl Streep’s age belt quite like she does, and I mean that in the best of ways.

Seriously though, the vocals in this reinvention of “Into the Woods” were spot-on. Sondheim isn’t the easiest of music composers to sing, and there wasn’t one dropped note or missing lyric anywhere in the show. Of course, that is the magic of Hollywood and the ability to take enough shots to patch together the perfect cut. Still, all things aside, this is one Hollywood Broadway movie I will be buying the soundtrack to.

Anna Kendrick did a fantastic job as Cinderella. Even though Cinderella isn’t the most complex character written, she isn’t the simplest either. All Cinderella wants is a few evenings off from her slave labor to have fun, party, drink and dance a little. Getting the prince was far more than Cinderella ever imagined.

Kendrick does a great job as the reluctant princess. In particular, I love the way she crafted “On the Steps of the Palace.” Both playful and pensive, Cinderella is lamenting what to do with her prince. Does she choose to be caught by the prince and live in the lap of luxury the rest of her life, or does she run back to the comfort and torment of her father’s house? The debate between the options is clear on Kendrick’s face, and that kind of emotional acting is something rarely seen in many of the actresses in the industry.

One thing you should know about “Into the Woods” before you see it is the plot line. Not understanding where the show is going makes it a little confusing and hard to enjoy. It’s not that “Into the Woods” is an acquired taste or is hard to understand, but still it helps to know where the story is going. Take 10 minutes with the Wikipedia article, don’t worry about lists of revivals and awards, and the whole experience will be much more pleasurable for everyone.

If audience members remember one thing from “Into the Woods,” I would want it to be this: “Someone is on your side/ Someone else is not/ While we’re seeing our side/ Maybe we forgot/ They are not alone/ No one is alone.”