Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Into the Score

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Into the Score

Article excerpt

Woods' cast recordings ensure the show will live "ever after"

Less than a week after the Broadway opening of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, on Nov. 5, 1987, the cast of the show went into a studio to create the first commercial recording of Sondheim's soon-to-be Tony Award-winning score. The cast resembled a Sondheim repertory company. Merle Louise, who played Cinderella's Mother, Little Red Riding Hood's Grandmother and the Giant, had originated the roles of Susan in Company (1970) and Sweeney Todd's Beggar Woman (1979). Cinderella's Father was played by Edmund Lyndeck, the original Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd. Four cast members from Sunday in the Park with George (1984) - Barbara Bryne (the Old Lady/Blair Daniels), Danielle Ferland (Louise), Robert Westenberg (Soldier/ Alex) and Bernadette Peters (Dot/Marie) - were in the Into the Woods company, with Bryne as Jack's Mother, Ferland as Little Red, Westenberg as the Wolf and Cinderella's Prince and, of course, Peters as the Witch. Joy Franz, who played Cinderella's Stepmother, would sing on the original cast recording of Assassins (1991) and Tom Aldredge, doubling as the Narrator and the Mysterious Man, later originated the role of Doctor Tambourri in Russian (1994).

For two days, the cast, led by Jay David Saks - a protégé of Thomas Z. Shepard, the producer of Follies in Concert (1985) and the original cast recordings of Merrily We Roll Along (1981) and several other Sondheim shows - labored to condense Sondheim's richly layered score to 19 tracks of music that became 6796-1-RC for the RCA Victor catalog. Packaged in a handsome gatefold sleeve, the original LP was released in January 1988 and included an insert of the complete libretto, illustrated with costume sketches by Tony nominee Ann Hould-Ward. It earned a fifth cast album Grammy for Sondheim and was the first of five awards to date in the same category for Saks. A cassette version was issued, followed by a CD release in October 1990. Though the recording fit on one disk, like Sunday in the Park with George, it was packaged in a double-disk jewel case to accommodate the extremely thick libretto.

Prior to opening on Broadway, demo recordings of various songs were made, and three of these early concepts - "Giants in the Sky," "Back to the Palace" and "Boom Crunch" - were included as bonus tracks on a 2007 re-release of the CD. The first features John Cameron Mitchell delivering a patter-style introduction before segueing into the more familiar "Giants" melody with discarded lyrics; the second has Kim Crosby as a less proactive palace-bound Cinderella; and in the third, Maureen Moore sings a more arch and atonal Witch's judgment on the other characters. (In Look, I Made a Hat, Sondheim provides the lyrics and discusses the reasons for axing all three. He also includes two discarded songs, "I Wish" and "Rainbows," from a proposed 1980s film adaptation for which studio demos were recorded, but were never commercially released. A third track, "Hello, Little Girl," also exists from this film score demo.) This expanded 22-track version is now the standard edition, re-released in 2011 in an "econopack" cardboard sleeve (sans libretto), which was included in "Broadway in a Box," a 25-title musical theatre starter set of essential scores from Masterworks Broadway, released in October 2012.

In 1990 Into the Woods had its first U.K. production at London's Phoenix Theatre. The cast included Side by Side by Sondheim star Julia McKenzie as the Witch, Jacqui Dankworth as Cinderella (she's the daughter of Cleo Laine, who played the Witch in the show's 1988 U.S. national tour) and Imelda Staunton as the Baker's Wife. (Look for an interview with film star Staunton on p. 31 in this issue.) Jay Records founder John Yap produced a 33-track London cast recording (the prologue accounting for the first nine tracks) for RCA Victor (60752-2-RC). The presence of British accents lends a festive element to the proceedings, and the disk marks the first appearance of "Our Little World," a duet for Rapunzel and the Witch, which has become an optional song for all subsequent productions. …

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