Streep as be­witch­ing as ever

Com­edy and tragedy go hand-in-hand in this mu­si­cal

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - ONSTAGE -

TRA­DI­TION­ALLY in fairy­tales, the bedrag­gled hero­ine wins her dash­ing prince, evil step­moth­ers get their come­up­pance and ab­ducted chil­dren es­cape the clutches of a witch by push­ing the treach­er­ous hag into her oven.

Noth­ing epit­o­mises Hap­pily Ever After like the heady aroma of roast­ing hu­man flesh.

Into The Woods keeps turn­ing the pages on th­ese ar­che­typal char­ac­ters, imag­in­ing what might hap­pen as they come to terms with their ac­tions and, in most cases, suf­fer the reper­cus­sions.

Light com­edy and heartrend­ing tragedy skip hand-in-hand in James Lap­ine’s screen­play and Stephen Sond­heim’s mu­sic and lyrics, which are am­brosia for di­rec­tor Rob Mar­shall, who pro­pelled the 2002 film ver­sion of Chicago to Os­car glory. This has nearly as much raz­zle daz­zle, in­clud­ing gor­geous cos­tumes, pic­turesque sets and dig­i­tally en­hanced mag­i­cal ef­fects.

Thank­fully, Mar­shall tones down the swirling cam­er­a­work and snappy edit­ing here, adopt­ing a gen­tler rhythm, which is less ex­haust­ing on our eyes over two hours.

The Baker (James Cor­den) and his wife (Emily Blunt) yearn for a child but can­not con­ceive.

The Witch (Meryl Streep) next door prom­ises the cou­ple a fam­ily if they bring her four ob­jects be­fore the blue moon – a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yel­low as corn, and a slip­per as pure as gold.

The Baker and his wife head into the woods with six magic beans and en­counter 12-year-old Jack ( Daniel Hut­tle­stone), who is off to mar­ket to sell his cow Milky White, Cin­derella ( Anna Ken­drick), who is flee­ing from a ball thrown by a charm­ing Prince (Chris Pine), Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood ( Lilla Craw­ford), who in­tends to visit her Granny ( An­nette Cros­bie) but would make a tasty snack for the las­civ­i­ous Wolf (Johnny Depp), and Ra­pun­zel (Macken­zie Mauzy), who is con­signed to a tower which can only be ac­cessed by low­er­ing her flaxen hair to a smit­ten lover (Billy Mag­nus­son).

As the fated hour ap­proaches, the child­less cou­ple re­sorts to des­per­ate mea­sures to col­lect the ob­jects for the Witch.

Into The Woods es­tab­lishes its mood with a daz­zling over­ture, “I Wish”, el­e­gantly in­tro­duc­ing the char­ac­ters be­fore their fates in­ter­sect.

Streep is typ­i­cally spell­bind­ing. Her voice soars and our hearts break in her solo to moth­er­hood, “Stay With Me”.

Cor­den and Blunt add to the film’s emo­tional heft, while Pine and Mag­nus­son are hys­ter­i­cal as re­gal brothers in their chest­beat­ing, thigh-slap­ping duet “Agony” atop a cas­cad­ing wa­ter­fall.

With such a large cast to jug­gle, the script oc­ca­sion­ally feels dis­jointed and some gear changes from broad pan­tomime to heart­break­ing grief are jar­ring.

But Mar­shall doesn’t shy away from de­liv­er­ing bit­ter pills in the fi­nal act cour­tesy of a ma­raud­ing gi­ant (Frances de la Tour).

Ev­ery­thing has a price, es­pe­cially your heart’s de­sire, so be care­ful what you wish for.

Meryl Streep is The Witch in Into The Woods

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