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CD Review

Stephen Sondheim

Into the Woods

2002 Broadway Revival Cast
  • Vanessa Williams (Witch)
  • John McMartin (Narrator)
  • Stephen DeRosa (Baker)
  • Karen O'Malley (Baker's Wife)
  • Laura Benanti (Cinderella)
  • Molly Ephraim (Little Red Riding Hood)
  • Melissa Dye (Rapunzel)
  • Gregg Edelman, Christopher Sieber (Wolves/Princes)
  • Paul Gemignani, conductor
Nonesuch 79686-2 DDD 70:21
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Admirers of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, a challenging show based on several Grimm Brothers' fairy tales, can now choose between the original cast recording from 1987 (RCA Victor 6796-2-RC) and the present revival recording from 2002. Of course, rather than choosing, most of Sondheim's admirers will want to have both.

In the Woods has changed very little over the course of fifteen years

once Sondheim writes a show, it tends to stay written. The biggest textual difference on this new recording is the insertion of "Our Little World," a duet for Rapunzel and the Witch, early in Act One right before Little Red Ridinghood's "I Know Things Now." The duet establishes the symbiotic relationship between these characters more strongly.

Bernadette Peters was a very grand Witch in 1987. Williams' interpretation is a little more human, but her voice is less special than Peters's. Overall, I prefer the singing in the earlier recording

the new performers are generally more detached and ironic. For example, in the "Agony" duet, Gregg Edelman and Christopher Sieber (Cinderella's Prince and Rapunzel's Prince, respectively) seem to mock the song's passions

Robert Westenberg and Chuck Wagner took this song at face value in 1987, and the result was more immediately moving. Into the Woods, as one expects from Sondheim, is a complicated, multi-layered show, and performing it a little more coolly, as happens here, encourages listeners to consider the ethical issues that are raised, and not to be swept along by the familiar plot(s). In 1987, Into the Woods was more fun. In 2002, it was more brainy.

It should be noted that Sondheim was at the May 2002 recording sessions for this revival cast recording, so I assume this recording reflects his interpretive preferences more than not.

Nonesuch's lavish packaging, including an outer box and a thick libretto, is a definite improvement over RCA Victor's. Nonesuch complements the score with more refined engineering, while RCA's recording has a more theatrical flavor, even though it too was recorded in the studio.

Copyright © 2003, Raymond Tuttle