Does ‘Into the Woods’ Hurt Broadway…

Let me begin this post by saying I loved “Into the Woods” (the recent cinematic adventure created by Rob Marshall et al). The cast is wonderful and the music is wonderful and the direction is wonderful (and all the other compliments that I am obligated to pay because I am a part of the industry and also don’t want to kill my career/keep the option open of working with some of these people). Did I use a sensationally worded title to get people’s attention? Yes. I accept responsibility for this action. That’s basically the entire basis of blogging and I am fine with that. But on to the point I have to make that doesn’t skewer “Into the Woods”…

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When I was probably around 8 (plus or minus) I saw the national tour of Phantom of the Opera at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center in Orlando, FL. It was everything I wanted a musical to be. There was a giant chandelier that lifted over the audience. There was elaborate costumery. And then there came the moment where the Phantom’s face was revealed and I was horrified. He was deformed. Spoiler Alert: the actor isn’t deformed. They don’t send out casting notices only for people with severe facial scarring. I have since learned that he has this elaborate latex prosthetic piece that makes his face look like a smushed piece of Silly Putty. But that isn’t the point. The sheer horror I created in my tiny childhood imagination made this man with beige snot on his face into a horrifying monster. He was horrifying in the most romantic and theatrical way.

Fast forward to college. I was lucky enough to be apart of the first ever collegiate production of “Les Miserables” at Belmont University. It had never been done by a university so it was a pretty big deal. I think we might have made the newspaper… in the back 1/3 where the Arts stuff always ends up. Near the middle of Act II almost everyone dies. That’s not a spoiler. That historically happened. If you didn’t know that but can name more than 6 housewives put down the remote and read a book. When everyone “died” they just fell over into a fantastically dramatic spotlight that further emphasized their completely bloodless death. Did anyone care? No. No one was sitting in the audience thinking “Man, I really wish that when that costumed college student had been fake shot on stage there had been fake blood splatters”. They were captivated by the performance… or were one of the few dozen people who came simply because they were required to come for course credit. Honestly, those people’s opinions aren’t as important. What was important was the audible sound of tears from the audience at the end of the show.

So now we get to “Into the Woods”. Do I think everyone was wonderful in it? For the most part. It was incredibly well done. The singing was lovely. Everyone seemed to fit the characters they were cast in. It could certainly be an award contender. But as I was leaving the theatre a high school age girl said she “really needs to see this on stage” (which is awesome and I promise I am getting to my point).

Tiny Daniel Huttlestone climbs a monstrous beanstalk while wind whips past him and fog obscures his view of the Earth below. Meryl Streep is quasi-struck by lightning and turns to a puddle of goop. A real cow “comes back to life”. These things don’t happen on stage. In fact there is a whole Tumblr simply dedicated to bad high school versions of Milky White. All I’m saying is, though doing a production like this is incredibly valuable as it exposes people who would never see the show to the world of musical theatre (heck… my brother even came to see it…), it begins to set a different standard for live performers. These new audience members want to hear studio quality vocals every single performance. They want to see a full scale tower for Rapunzel to sit in. They want livestock. Anyone who has done a live nativity (see how I keep it seasonally relevant?) knows how horrible livestock is on stage. There is no room for performance error. No room for technical glitches. And certainly no room for the ever-so-important “imagination” that is vital to seeing theatre.

This is all one big way of saying: Dear world, go see live theatre. It is a crucial part of culture and history. But know that when you see it someone may forget a line. Someone’s voice may crack. A costume change may not be as magically seamless as it could be or the cow may be played by the two stage hands who had no cues in that scene. There is even the possibility that Elphaba won’t fly… heaven forbid. But that doesn’t make it any less fantastic than a movie. The fact that you can see the dancers sweating on stage, the spotlight shaking slightly as it tries to focus, or an actor stuttering through a line doesn’t make it less credible or spectacular as an art form. Sometimes you just need to sit in a theatre and use your imagination to transport yourself to a 1930s cabaret, the magical world of Oz, or a South Pacific island rather than have a team of animators create the scene for you.

Let me know your thoughts on this riveting and downright ground breaking issue and make sure to subscribe for more musings.

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