From "Boom Crunch" to "The Last Midnight": How Into the Woods Transformed Throughout the Years

News   From "Boom Crunch" to "The Last Midnight": How Into the Woods Transformed Throughout the Years
 
What was the Witch's big song before "The Last Midnight" was written? What happened to the Baker's Wife in the very first production? Learn how Into the Woods changed from its premiere performance on stage to the Disney motion picture.

Chip Zien, Joanna Gleason and Bernadette Peters in the original Broadway production
Chip Zien, Joanna Gleason and Bernadette Peters in the original Broadway production Martha Swope
Robert Westenberg in the original Broadway production
Robert Westenberg in the original Broadway production Photo by Martha Swope

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Everyone's excited to see Disney's big screen film adaptation of the beloved Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical Into the Woods. As reports have surfaced about changes made in the story's journey to the screen, it's also been made clear that many fans are worried about the movie straying a little too far from the path. However, Into the Woods has hardly been an unchanging text since its original Broadway production up to the Dec. 25 release of the film.

In anticipation of the world-premiere movie clip Playbill will present Nov. 20, let's take a look back at the changes and tweaks that have been made to the stage production over the years.

Before Broadway, Into the Woods played its initial full-scale production at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, CA. That production opened Dec. 4, 1986 and ran for 50 performances. Though the production was similar in many ways to the Broadway production that followed it, some aspects of the show were different. "Second Midnight," a quick collection of rhythmically-spoken interjections on Broadway, was initially a full-length song in San Diego. After a sung montage of lessons and contemplations by several characters, it segued into what would later become "Children Will Listen." In fact, this is where most of the lyrics from the introduction featured in Barbra Streisand's recording of the song came from. The song made it to Broadway rehearsals but was cut after the final dress rehearsal.

The Old Globe production also featured different casting. There was originally one actor (John Cunningham, who did not continue with the production to Broadway) who portrayed the Narrator, the Wolf and the Steward. Meanwhile, George Coe (who also did not continue to Broadway) portrayed the Mysterious Man and Cinderella's Father. Tom Aldredge would go on to portray both the Narrator and the Mysterious Man on Broadway and Robert Westenberg played the Wolf and Cinderella's Prince, while the Steward became its own individual role, portrayed by Philip Hoffman. Read Playbill.com's interview with movie director Rob Marshall and screenwriter James Lapine.

The Old Globe production also featured three wolves (two played by women, original Stepmother Joy Franz and Grandmother Merle Louise), and a brief appearance by the three little pigs. These were deleted for the original Broadway production, but they weren't gone forever.

Some actors who appeared in the Old Globe production but did not become members of the original Broadway cast later played their roles in the Broadway production as replacements, including LuAnne Ponce as Little Red and Ellen Foley as the Witch.

Bernadette Peters, Robert Westenberg, Tom Aldredge, Joanna Gleason, and Chip Zien
Bernadette Peters, Robert Westenberg, Tom Aldredge, Joanna Gleason, and Chip Zien

Perhaps the most striking change, however, was the context in which the character of the Baker's Wife died in this pre-Broadway production. After her dalliance with Cinderella's Prince ("Any Moment"), she sang a song entitled "Ready For the Woods." After this, she was killed by eating a poisoned apple, referencing the fairy tale "Snow White." By the time the Broadway production opened, "Ready for the Woods" had been replaced with "Moments in the Woods," which is now a particular fan-favorite in the score. The poison apple was jettisoned, and the Baker's Wife died from being crushed by the Giant.

When the show headed to its Broadway run at the Martin Beck Theatre (now the Al Hirschfeld, current home to Kinky Boots), the production picked up a new Narrator (Tom Aldredge), Little Red Riding Hood (Danielle Ferland), Cinderella's Father (Edmund Lyndeck), Cinderella's Prince/Wolf (Robert Westenberg) and, most notably, a new Witch (Bernadette Peters).

Read Playbill.com's story "The 8 Things You May Not Know About Into the Woods" here.

The writers were still at work on the show. In previews, "A Very Nice Prince" was substantially reduced, though the longer version was preserved on the original Broadway cast recording.

One of the score's more memorable songs, "Last Midnight," was not written until mid-way during the previews process. When previews began, this spot in the show featured a song called "Boom Crunch," which also appeared in the pre-Broadway Old Globe production. Though this song covers much of the same material as "Last Midnight," Sondheim has been quoted as saying that the song mystified audiences. "Last Midnight" packs a little more punch, and builds to a more definite climax. Paired with Bernadette Peter's show-stopping performance of the number, "Last Midnight" became another fan-favorite moment in the show. The show opened Nov. 5, 1987 and enjoyed a two-year run. Shortly before closing, the original Broadway cast reunited so that the production could be filmed for television broadcast on PBS. This telecast has subsequently been released on VHS and DVD and has become popular with theatre lovers all over the world.

You can take a look at the entire opening night Playbill from the original Broadway production in the Vault!

Vanessa Williams in the Broadway revival
Vanessa Williams in the Broadway revival

Original Little Red Riding Hood Danielle Ferland sat down with Playbill in 2012 to reminisce about the development process and original Broadway run of Into the Woods, including the taping.

Into the Woods opened at the Phoenix Theatre on London's West End September 25, 1990, marking the show's London debut. This production featured Julia McKenzie as the Witch and Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter series) as the Baker's Wife.

It also featured a new song for Rapunzel and the Witch, "Our Little World." Occurring in the show when we first see the Witch visit Rapunzel, the song expands on their relationship and life together. This song, though marked as optional in the rental score provided to theatre companies producing the show, has become a frequent inclusion in major productions, including the 2002 Broadway revival and 2012's Shakespeare in the Park production.

Into the Woods was next seen on Broadway in 2002 at the Broadhurst Theatre (currently home to Mamma Mia!). This production starred Vanessa Williams as the Witch, Laura Benanti as Cinderella, Kerry O'Malley as the Baker's Wife, Christopher Sieber as Rapunzel's Prince and John McMartin as the Narrator and Mysterious Man.

This production was visually quite different from the original production, most notably with the human portrayal of Milky White (by a young Chad Kimball) as opposed to the original production's static prop. However, this production also featured some new changes to the text and score. A second wolf was added to "Hello, Little Girl," as well as an appearance by the three little pigs. Though this is an idea that originated in the pre-Broadway Old Globe production, the Broadway revival featured two male wolves, both portrayed by the actors playing the Princes. Cinderella's "On the Steps of the Palace" was given a new ending incorporating Jack and Little Red, emphasizing their concurrent coming-of-age stories.

Jenna Russell
Jenna Russell Photo by Catherine Ashmore

The most dramatic change happened to "Last Midnight." Vanessa Williams' Witch began the song singing to the Baker's child, having picked him up while other characters were fighting with each other. The song became a suspenseful and dark lullaby and got some fresh lyrics to match the new context. The ending also got new lyrics in an attempt to clear up what exactly happens to the Witch at the end of the number. In the staging, she pulled off her hair and a sleeve of her dress, revealing a balding scalp and withered arm. She had "lost the beans again," and therefore was turning old as she had the first time. She sank into the stage crying out, "Mother, here I come" as opposed to the original lyric, "and the boom—crunch." Want to see the Opening Night Playbill from the Broadway revival of Into the Woods? Playbill Vault has you covered.

New York City's next major production of Into the Woods took most of these changes and added even more of its own. In 2010, a production opened at the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park, London, directed by Timothy Sheader and featuring Jenna Russell as the Baker's Wife. It was brought to Central Park's Delacorte Theatre in the summer of 2012 as part of the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park series. Though this production featured a different cast (lead by Donna Murphy as the Witch, Jessie Mueller as Cinderella, Denis O'Hare as the Baker, original Broadway Baker Chip Zien as the Mysterious Man and Amy Adams as the Baker's Wife), the plot changes were left intact from its London engagement.

This production's Narrator was not an adult man, as he has been in both Broadway productions. The Narrator was played by a small boy (Matilda the Musical's's Jack Broderick), playing fairy tales in his room to cheer himself up after a fight with his father. At the end of the first act, he ran away from home and was sleeping outside. His worsening family situation mirrored the show's much darker second act. At the end of the second act, we saw the boy's father for the first time, portrayed by the same actor playing the Baker (Denis O'Hare). He attempted to make up for losing his temper by reading his son a fairy tale, just like the Baker in the original production begins telling the story of Into the Woods to his infant son in the finale.

We also can't forget that we have yet another NYC production of the musical to look forward to this winter, an Off-Broadway Roundabout Theatre Company transfer of a production that originated at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ. Produced in association with New York's Fiasco Theatre, this production will feature "10 actors, one piano, and boundless imagination" in a "witty and wildly theatrical re-invention" of the show. We may well have several more paragraphs of tweaks and edits to add to this compendium once the production begins performances at the Laura Pels Theatre Dec. 18.

Watch the trailer for the movie here. Into the Woods is certainly a well-loved musical, thanks in part to the readily available telecast of the original Broadway cast and production. This has made the original edition of the piece and the performances of the original cast immortal and ever-present in fans' minds, which is probably a big part of why any and all changes have seemed to cause a fair amount of resistance and rancor. For what its worth, most of the changes made for stage productions detailed above are now offered to theatre companies producing local productions of Into the Woods, though they are marked as optional and provided in tandem with the original Broadway arrangements. The stakes are certainly higher for devotees of the show now that they are anticipating Disney's major big-screen adaptation, a film that could easily open up an already-popular show to a whole new audience.

Composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim and book writer/original director James Lapine have said in many interviews that they think fans of the show can expect a fantastic adaptation, and they've also stressed their own participation with and approval of all changes that were made for the film. We only have to wait until Dec. 25 to see for ourselves.

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