Friday, June 6, 2008

A life on the boards? A cautionary tale.

This week, I rented the 1991 recording of James Lapine's and Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, with the original Broadway cast from when it opened in 1987. I'm coming a little late to this party and may be telling you something you already know, but Into the Woods is a fantastic musical. The tunes are great, the story is clever, there are lots of laughs and surprises. One of the tunes is still rattling around in my head, and I will give a YouTube link to it below. It won several Tony awards in a year dominated by Phantom of the Opera. I've never seen Phantom, but I'm sure I wouldn't like it as much as I liked this. I often watch DVDs twice if there's a commentary track. There are two DVDs I watched twice this year that had no commentary track. One was the Korean monster movie The Host. Into the Woods is the second.

There are ten major roles in Into the Woods. The box lists five names. The five not named played the younger roles. Let me say that everyone was fantastic. Lovely voices, great diction, good with the funny, and there's plenty of funny on this show. I did a little research to see what happened to folks in the intervening seventeen years.

Bernadette Peters. She played the witch. She was a star before this, she is a star now. She will be a star on Broadway as long as she wants to be, and amen to that.

Joanna Gleason. She's Monty Hall's daughter, did you know that? I didn't. She played the baker's wife. Another long and successful career in the theater, and good for her.

Chip Zien. Another New York actor who keeps working and working. He played the baker. If you don't know the name, I'm pretty sure you'd recognize the face.

Tom Aldredge. Played the narrator and the mysterious man. Character actor. You've seen him a jillion times, but modern audiences will recognize him as Carmela's dad on The Sopranos.

Robert Westerberg. He played the prince who wooed Cinderella. Internet Movie Database ( says he's had nine screen roles since, which isn't a lot in seventeen years. The Internet Theatre Database didn't recognize his name, but that's the fault of the database, not Westerberg. Technically, he's still a working actor, and I wish him all the best.

The five that aren't named are younger actors.

Chuck Wagner: He played the younger brother of Prince Charming, also charming, and he won the hand of Rapunzel. Chuck Wagner, as you will see in the clip, is just too damn good looking, and he's been stuck in the ghetto of the good looking in show biz, which is to say he's had four roles on soap operas. He also played Gaston and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway in the 1990's. I've read that he is now the ringmaster for Ringling Bros./Barnum and Bailey, but I haven't confirmed that.

Kim Crosby: She played Cinderella. She married Prince Charming. No, really, she married Westerberg and hasn't done any work on film since.

Pamela Winslow: She was Rapunzel, the smallest of the major roles. She got work on film a total of six times after Into the Woods, and those six include a recurring character that shows up on three episodes of Star Trek: The Next Pajamas. Her career ended in the 1990's as far as imdb knows.

Danielle Ferland: She was Little Red Riding Hood. She looked more like a child star than an ingenue princess. In fact, in 1987 she had a role in Woody Allen's Radio Days whose name was "Child Star". She is still getting work, but only six roles on film in seventeen years.

Ben Wright: He played Jack from the Jack and the Beanstalk story. He's had two roles on film as an actor, and worked twice as a stunt double. The old joke with the punchline "What? And leave show business?" comes to mind.

So, some hits and some misses, with most of the misses in the younger cast members. Recall that every one of these people got the thing that actors want most. Every one of them was on Broadway in a role that put them on stage by themselves singing a fantastic tune.

While I can't praise the show enough, let me give it one more plug from The You Tubes, with the two princes singing the song that explains them best, Agony.

If you go to YouTube and search for Into the Woods, almost all the songs are there, including a reprise to Agony in the second act that might even be funnier than this. Seeing all the songs separately is nice, but rent or buy the DVD, 'cause it's nicer.


Friday means Random 10!

All Grown Up Elvis Costello
Baubles Bangles and Beads Nina Simone
Sign of the Times The Belle Stars
Every Breath I Take Gene Pitney
Breaking Us In Two Joe Jackson
Downtown Train Tom Waits
Something to Sing About Sarah Michelle Gellar
Maggie’s Farm Bob Dylan
Sunday Kind of Love Etta James
Papa Was A Rolling Stone Was (Not Was)

If a person under 30 were to look at this, that person's first reaction would be, "Jeez, they let old farts buy iPods, too!" Leaving aside the comments of this hypothetical whippersnapper, only the song from the Buffy soundtrack dates from the era after the invention of the MP3 player. Still, there's the One True Living Elvis and Our Tom, two of my favorite artists in the whole wide world, so I'm pretty happy about this list. And while my musical tastes are scattered all over the place, the inclusion of Gene Pitney is there to say "Why, yes! I am a white boy born in the suburbs! How did you know?"


dguzman said...

Top-notch Random 10, Matty Boy. That Joe Jackson song is a real gem, not to mention the Etta James and the Buffy. Mee-yow!

I'm a huge broadway fan along with the other Matty in my life. We'll often stay up all night watching stuff like "Broadway's Lost Treasures" or "Chicago." I luvs the Great White Way.

Matty Boy said...

Yes, I love Broadway show tunes more than Larry Craig does! But of course, neither of us is gay and neither of us ever have been gay.

And one of us is telling the truth!

FranIAm said...

Into the Woods is truly brilliant - and that original cast... outstanding.

And dguzman said it first, but that whole SMG and Etta combo did me in baby.

Olo said...

I suppose Our Agenda doesn't figure at all in your appreciation of Into the Woods, does it?

Matty Boy said...

Well, Olo, I did post to one of the giantess boards that in the second act after Jack kills the giant, the giant's wife comes down to wreak havoc. I thought that might be a nice surprise for my reader who are not part of Our People, but the cat is out of the bag now, isn't it?

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I loved Into The Woods so much that I thought I might be gay. But then I realized that I wanted Ms. Peters and Ms. Gleason, and not any of the males. But holy crap, I loved this musical. And Anything Goes too. I love them both.