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Into The Woods: Composer Stephen Sondheim Interview

Into The Woods: Composer Stephen Sondheim Interview

Into The Woods is a modern musical spin on traditional fairy tales, with multi award-winning composer Stephen Sondheim captivating audiences through his score, rhythm and magical lyrics. Be enchanted by the sounds of this glorious film…

Have you booked your tickets yet? Prepare for a magical treat of visual artistry and captivating musical compositions that are sure to strike a chord, when Into the Woods hits cinemas on January 8, 2015. The film is based on the original 1987 Broadway musical stage production, Into The Woods, by acclaimed writer James Lapine and eight-time Tony®, GRAMMY® and Oscar® winning composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who produced both the musical’s music and lyrics as well as the film’s adaptation. You’d be hard-pressed to find a hit musical that didn’t have Stephen Sondheim’s Midas touch behind it. His list of achievements stretches for decades, from West Side Story (1957) to Sweeney Todd (1979) and Dick Tracy (1990), with umpteen in-between. He has even had the Broadway venue formerly known as Henry Miller’s Theatre renamed after him in his honour. And now he’s back with the film adaptation of Into the Woods to talk lyrics, composition and score. Aaah, music to our ears…

Into The Woods: Composer Stephen Sondheim Reveals The Score & Lyrics Behind His Musical Masterpiece
Into The Woods: Composer Stephen Sondheim Reveals The Score & Lyrics Behind His Musical Masterpiece

Stephen Sondheim receives a standing ovation at the world premiere of Into the Woods. Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios Motion Picture. Copyright.

Here, Stephen reveals …

… How the stage musical Into The Woods came about

“[Writer] James Lapine and I had such a good time writing Sunday in the Park with George and were pleased with what we’d done, so we said, ‘Let’s write another show.’  We wanted to write a fantasy-quest musical like The Wizard of Oz. James thought of taking a number of traditional fairy tales and combining them with a new one, so he made up the story of the Baker and his Wife and incorporated the characters from Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood.”

Into The Woods: Composer Stephen Sondheim
Into The Woods: Composer Stephen Sondheim

Writer James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim attend the world premiere of Into the Woods. Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Copyright.

… Adapting the stage play to screen

“{Director] Rob [Marshall] has a theatre background, which is crucial, and he’s a choreographer, which is also crucial. This kind of musical needs a director who knows how to stage numbers. The songs in Into the Woods are part of the context, the plotting, the ambience and the texture. But when the action stops for the song – Cinderella describing her experience at the ball, or Little Red’s experience in the Wolf’s stomach – those are numbers that have to be inventively staged. Rob is one of the few directors who can do that well.”

… Working with Meryl Streep

“Meryl Streep is so remarkable it’s hard to talk about her without sounding like her agent. Everybody knows about her versatility: her ear for accents alone is remarkable. But more than that, she has an ability to find colours in a lyric that I’ve rarely come across. She would do a number of takes on the songs in the recording studio and every take was different in some way. She would take the lyric and – I suspect a lot of it is conscious, but it’s also her gift – and with each take, try it from a different angle. You can listen to all the takes and no two are alike in terms of tone. It’s subtle, but they are distinctly different. A single moment in a lyric could be angry or annoyed or laconic. A good actress can always find different colours in a line reading, but it’s infinitely more difficult to do that with a lyric because a lyric is confined by the rhythm, stress and inflections of the music.”

Into The Woods
Into The Woods

James Corden and Meryl Streep star in Into the Woods, a modern twist on beloved fairy tales that explores the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. Photo by: Peter Mountain. © 2014 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Meryl Streep and Stephen Sondheim
Meryl Streep and Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim and Meryl Streep attend the world premiere of Into the Woods. Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Copyright.

… The song Into the Woods

“The song Into the Woods is exposition. One of the things that’s always hardest in a musical is to answer the question, ‘Who are these people?’ for the audience. The opening number is the most important part of any musical because it lays out the ground rules for the audience. You have to introduce the major characters; you have to give the audience a feel for the kind of show they’re in for.  Into the Woods was particularly complicated because you’re telling three stories and you have to start each story for the audience. It would be extremely boring if you started with a scene with the Baker and his Wife and they sang a song. Then you have a scene in Jack’s house and they sing a song. And then you have a scene in Cinderella’s house and they sing a song, by which time you’ve forgotten who the Baker was. You’ve got to tell the audience that these are the people you’re going to be watching all evening, all of them, and they are of equal importance. Each has a separate story entirely. Music can fill in gaps quickly because you can make a transition from this subject to that subject in two bars, whereas otherwise it would require five lines of dialogue. So Into the Woods is a compression: by the time that number’s over you’ve met all the main characters. You get the laconic aspect of the Baker’s Wife and you get the greediness of Little Red Riding Hood and the air-headedness of Jack. At the same time, you want the audience to know that it’s going to be fun and funny. They’re at the edge of the diving board and ready to go.”

… The song It Takes Two

“The central story of Into the Woods is the Baker and his Wife. Their relationship drives the story forward. It Takes Two is about how they really get to know each other. They learn their childlessness is caused by a curse on the Baker’s family and they have to go into the woods, and just the way everybody else goes into the woods, they each come out a different person. They find the objects of their quest, but more important, they find each other, so to speak. I think it’s the first time in their lives that they’ve done anything together beyond baking and selling and cleaning.  So the song is a song about two people who, in a sense, are meeting for the first time, which is the best thing that can happen in a marriage after a while. It’s about the refreshment of a marriage.

… The significance of your lyrics in No One is Alone

No One Is Alone is the community song. I believe Arthur Wing Pinero said that in writing a play, you tell the audience what you’re going to do, you do it and then you tell them that you’ve done it. If you tell them that you’ve done it, then it makes a package. No One Is Alone tells them that we’ve done it. This is what the show has been about. No one is alone: we are all connected in some way and we are all responsible for each other’s actions. It’s something I believe firmly and it’s something that’s worth writing about.”

… The message Into the Woods sends

“For me, it was about community responsibility. In the first part, everybody acts for themselves and it brings down disaster. In the second part, they have to work together as a community to correct their error. And that seemed to me something worth writing about. We [James Lapine] didn’t sit down and think that’s what we’re going to say, but if you tell me what happened to you on the bus today, I can make a moral out of it. Any story, anything that happens to you, has substance to it. A story doesn’t have to prove a point, but it has to have a point.”

 

How are you inspired by the magical elements of the film? Tell us below!…

Written by Franki Hobson

Franki Hobson has worn many hats during her many years as a women's lifestyle journalist and editor. Her launching pad was COSMOPOLITAN magazine, where she moved from News & Entertainment Editor to Features Director, covering everything from the legalisation of the Morning After Pill to Gwen Stefani, fashion, beauty, sex, health, fitness, entertainment and relationships.

In 2003 Franki immersed herself in all things teen as Deputy Editor, then Editor-in-Chief of teen Bible DOLLY magazine. Following this, Franki was made Editor of COSMOPOLITAN Hair & Beauty, COSMOPOLITAN Pregnancy and COSMOPOLITAN Bride magazine, where she held the helm (and tiara) for more than 10 years. Franki was also the launch editor of COSMOPOLITAN Health magazine, and is an accomplished Homes Editor and Travel Editor, covering honeymoon destinations, family travel, luxe abodes and health retreats. Franki Hobson is a contributing lifestyle writer for The Carousel.

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