30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2002
This recording is wonderful and was worth every penny. It's quality is good and besides that, it comes with the full libretto along with the synopsis and some color pictures from the production. The orchestrations are beautiful and, as far as I can tell, haven't changed a bit from the original. I've found from past experience that it's hard for me to evaluate something in a paragraph, so this might be a little long...
-Vanessa Williams is fine as the Witch, but she lacks "witchyness" that the character needs. She is, without a doubt, an amazing performer, but her interpretation doesn't quite fit the character. She HAS grown on me quite a bit from when I first heard the recording, and I have to respect the fact that she is not Bernadette Peters, but a whole other Witch. She is a bit more haughty and sarcastic, maybe. But I still do think she needs to be more witchy. Other than that, she does a great job.
-Marylouise Burke as Jack's Mother is fine--it's shocking the first time you hear her go so low to sing, but you totally get used it. There are a couple of times in the prologue where she gets off tune, but for the most part, she does fine. It's not like she has any huge solos or anything.
-Laura Benanti is great as Cinderella. She has got to be one of the most beautiful sopranos I've ever heard. Wonderful take on the character... There are times when she reminds me of Kim Crosby, but there are others when she is a totally different Cinderella.
-I loved Stephen DeRosa as the Baker. He's got a deep, strong voice that fits the Baker's character, as opposed to Chip Zien's original "nervous" Baker. Chip Zien was good, but I have to say that I loved Stephen DeRosa's voice much better. He gives a wonderful performance.
-In my opinion, the best thing about this recording is Kerry O'Malley and her fresh new take on the Baker's Wife. I honestly never thought anyone could be so different from Joanna Gleason and at the same time, be just as good as her. But Kerry O'Malley has done it. Her Baker's Wife seems a lot more young and naive and she has a sweet-sounding, Eponine type voice. Her "Maybe They're Magic" was one of the best songs on this CD, despite the fact that it is about 50 seconds long. And her "Moments in the Woods" gets me every time I listen to it. I adored Joanna as the Baker's Wife, but I've also come to love Kerry. She's simply amazing.
-Molly Ephraim and Adam Wylie in the roles of Little Red and Jack are fine, but not spectacular. There were times when I felt Molly Ephraim wasn't acting in her role as well as she was singing in it. As far as I could tell from the recording, her Little Red had no personality! She has a nice, simple voice, though, and her "I Know Things Now" is enjoyable. Adam Wylie was OK, I suppose, although there were times when I caught him hitting wrong notes and that annoyed me. Overall, he is a strong singer, though.
-Gregg Edelman is AWESOME as Cinderella's Prince! What a voice.. He kind of reminds me of Robert Westenberg in the original. He's just great. And he's good in "Hello Little Girl" as the Wolf as well. Christopher Sieber as Rapunzel's Prince is also very satisfying.
-Melissa Dye as Rapunzel is incredible. She has a beautiful voice, was great in "Our Little World." Also, she handles those "hysterical" scenes well, she's convincing but doesn't overdo it.
Some other comments...
-The new ending to "On the Steps of the Palace" is fine but not necessary. The only impact I feel that it has is that it's no longer Cinderella's big solo. I guess it's nice finish to this song, but it steals the spotlight from Cinderella. We really don't need Jack and Little Red coming in and telling us they learned something too, in my opinion. I think we all get that. I prefer the original ending.
-"No One is Alone" is beautiful. I ADORE the new ending. It makes the song even more touching than it was before. I do NOT, however, like when Little Red sings her line, "I wish..." and in reply Cinderella SINGS, instead of just plain speaks, her line ("I know"). Very annoying, and it felt to me like Cinderella was taunting or mocking Little Red. Bad idea. It even takes away the beauty of the song for a minute there.
-"Your Fault" is done wonderfully--much better than how it was done in the original. The original casts' Your Fault seemed choppy and uneven, but this time it's done swiftly and consistently. I also like the way the music starts slow in the beginning, but speeds up for the Baker's first line. Good touch.
-As I said above, I loved "Moments in the Woods." For some reason, it's one of my favorite songs of all time, and I love it when Joanna Gleason sings it, but now I love it just as much when Kerry O'Malley sings it. She has a BEAUTIFUL voice.
Overall a wonderful recording and definitely worth buying. :)
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2002
Overall this recording is quite good. The addition of a second wolf coming back after following the Three Little Pigs was amusing. I had always wondered why only one of the Princes was a wolf. I also enjoyed the new ending to "Steps of the Palace". To me it had always been a song much too long for only Cinderella to sing.
I am quite partial to some of the casting of this revival as well. Molly Ephraim is the perfect Little Red in my opinion. Danielle Ferland was a fantastic actress but her voice tended to get on my nerves. I enjoy the fact that Molly does not belt everything.
Stephen DeRosa is also wonderful. Chip Zien I found to be too whiney of a Baker.
John McMartin I found to be a much more interesting Narrator than Tom Aldredge. Tom put me to sleep.
There were some casting mistakes, however. Vanessa Williams is nothing compared to Bernadette Peters as the Witch. She sounds beautiful when she is supposed to be mean and she sounds less beautiful when she is supposed to be beautiful. I cannot understand it.
Kerry O'Malley has a beautiful voice and I am thankful that she belts the end of "Maybe They're Magic". My one complaint with the original, Joanna Gleason was that she could not belt those notes. Despite Kerry's beautiful voice, I feel that she is a little too young for the role. Give her a few years and I think she'd be perfect!
Adam Wylie makes an interesting Jack. He took a much more animated approach to the role. I prefer Ben Wright's youthful voice to Adam's nasal voice, though.
Marylouise Burke I believe to be fine in the role of Jack's mother. Barbara Bryne was not much of a singer, either, in my opinion. The two women took very different appraoches to the role so much so that they even sang in different octaves. Had Burke been in the original and Bryne in the revival, I think everyone would be complaining as well. Both women are equally good in my opinion.
All of the other actors and actresses I consider to be equal (though possibly different) to the originals.
This recording is a triumph. Small bits of the actual music and lyrics that were not "perfect" in the original have been fixed. Though some cast members are not as good as the originals, none are lacking. This recording is well worth the money (as is the original).
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2002
BUY THIS CD!! It is defiantly worth it. With all of the publicity surrounding this revival, and this Tony Award winning cast lead by Vanessa Williams and John McMartin, it is an amazing soundtrack.
This recording is inventively done and defiantly breathes new life into this score. The new additions on this recording are the first American recording of "Our Little World", a duet between Rapunzel (Melissa Dye)and the Witch (Vanessa Williams). I would have bought the recording just for this song. The new version of "Hello, Little Girl" is now sung by both wolves to Ridinghood, preserved on this recording along with many other tweaks to the score.
Williams and McMartin are absolutely fabulous, breathing new life into there performances, as well is veteran actress Laura Benanti, Kerry O'Malley and Gregg Edelmann. While newcomers Adam Wylie and Molly Ephraim give a different twist on there characters, and are very entertaining to listen to,
the performance of Marylouise Burke is the biggest letdown on this recording.
While this recording is nothing like the original headed by Bernadette Peters, I think it is defiantly worth the chance because of the additional material by Steven Sondheim and Jonathan Tunick.
Thanks for reading, and buy this CD!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2002
The new Into the Woods is a must have! This new cast of Into the Woods took me completely by surpirse. The new cast is almost as good as the original cast and Vanessa Williams shines as the witch, but lacks some of the power that Bernadette Peters used to make the witch come alive. I was afraid when I heard that Sondheim had made a few changes to the show. I believe that the original cast album is a gem. The changes include 3 little pigs, a second wolf, minor alterations of words to a few songs like "On the Steps of the Palace", and the editon of "Our Little World" in act one. The song was cut from the Broadway production but appears on the London cast album. These changes enhance the show which I thought was already perfect. This is a must purchase if you love the original cast album. You will not be disappointed!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2002
As a fan of the Original Broadway production and having enjoyed many (way too many!) amateur productions, I was really excited about the new Woods recording, and not to be too cliched a bit scared as well on seeing Vanessa Williams billed as the witch. Not to knock her work, I love Spider Woman, but I thought her voice would be wrong for the part as it is so unlike Bernadettes.
But thats where the strength of this recording lies for me, the different interpretations of the roles which make the album interesting and enjoyable. Vanessa Williams witch is completely different from any interpretation I've ever heard, keeping the mystery and sinister charm inherant in the role and grounding it in simply stated emotion somehow making her both less and more human and although vocally I felt she was sometimes weak it was an interesting portrayal.
Laura Benanti's Cinderella is beautifully sung and acted, really making you emphathise with her and the younger Jack and Red Riding Hood, once you have got used to them are fine. The Princes are suitably pompous and arrogant (Gregg Edelman is particularly wonderful as the wolf) and the smaller characters all cope well with their roles.
The Baker and his Wife are the most differently played characters in that the strong wife and weak husband from the original is reversed with a commanding, confident baker and a more girlish and unsure wife. While I did enjoy Kerry O'Malleys beautifully sung "Moments in the Woods", which along with "Hello Little Girl" and "The Last Midnight" are the highlights of the recording, I found myself longing for a more dynamic performance as Joanna Gleason's Bakers Wife dominated the original recording with her presence and timing, while this reading was just bland.
The music, as always with Sondheim is beautiful and complex, gorgeously orchestrated and played. However, the new harmonies and part harmonies made the songs weaker rather than stronger, particularly the very messy end to the otherwise lovely "On the Steps of the Palace".
So, although not by any means the definitive version it's still a good recording and always worth listening to as Sondheim wrote "each time you go, theres more to learn of what you know"...
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2002
First off, Into the Woods is one of those shows (as is typical with most of Sondheim's work), where most people appreciate it better after seeing it live.
That being said, this is a halfway decent introduction to Into the Woods, though I'm not sure about the revival itself (in respect to things like set design). While it was a show made by its original Broadway cast, the performers here try their best to follow in their predecessors' footseps.
For some, it works rather well. While Joanna Gleason and Chip Zien to many (as I've noticed in other reviews) were the definitive Baker's Wife/Baker, Kerry O'Malley and Stephen DeRosa come in with a fresh take on the two characters. They have a solid chemistry that is noticeable on the recording, and are probably the two strongest cast members in my opinion. Following closely behind are John McMartin's Narrator/Mysterious Man and Laura Benanti's Cinderella.
Then for others, there is still something to be desired. Molly Ephraim's candor certainly shows, but I doubt anyone will be able to capture the spirit of Little Red Riding Hood as much as Danielle Ferland was able to. And I was thoroughly unimpressed by Vanessa Williams' witch. However, both Little Red and the Witch are terribly complex characters, so I give Ephraim an Williams credit for trying.
I was a little confused as to why they decided to make two wolves for this production, and I thought the three little pigs were pushing it (although as I recall this was an original intent with Sondheim back in the shows' original run).
In short, a good, pretty solid, performance; a wonderful reminder of Sondheim's genius. (How ironic, though, that the show that beat the original cast out for best musical in 88 is still running.)
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2002
The bottom line on this one is simple: if you have either the original Broadway cast recording or the original London cast recording, don't rush out to buy this one. If you do not, for some reason, own an Into The Woods CD, you wouldn't be sneered at if you chose this one.
Into The Woods may likely win out over all of Stephen Sondheim's works as the most popular and approachable. The musical, with book by James Lapine, takes several familiar fairy tales and spins them together in a very clever and often humurous way - in the first act, at least. The main plot lines deal with The Baker and His Wife, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood... but you'll also catch whiffs of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Three Little Pigs, and Rapunzel, among others. The first act of the musical weaves these popular fairy tales together and provides what seems like a happy ending; the second act poses questions about what happens to the characters in a fairy tale once they have everything their hearts yearn for.
Sondheim's score for Into The Woods is immensely clever, using every musical trick in the book to twist main themes like "Into The Woods", "Children Will Listen" and "No One Is Alone" into a full score of material. One of those musical tricks is unabashed recycling of his old music, which is always a treat for Sondheim fans who can't help but wonder if the presence of the same melodies across shows is indicative of some deep hidden meaning. We'll let that topic go, though, and leave it as fodder for the "love Sondheim / hate Sondheim" argument that rages ever onwards. Suffice it to say that we'll forgeo with my usual dissection of the score this time around.
This recording does offer some differences over the earlier Broadway recording. The most notable of these is the inclusion of "Our Little World", which is a song that was cut from the earlier production. The song takes place at Rapunzel's tower as the Witch is preparing to climb Rapunzel's hair, and the melody provides a stronger connection between the Witch and the recurrence of the themes from "Children Will Listen". "Hello, Little Girl" is done with both princes doubling as wolves, but the second wolf only appears at the end of the song, chasing the Three Little Pigs while the first wolf runs off to Red's grandmother's house. Other differences are similarly minor: there are subtly changed lyrics, additional vocal snippets from other characters, and some different musical direction. For the most part, however, this CD is extremely similar to its earlier Broadway cousin.
The audience for this recording is the same audience who have the earlier recording featuring Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleeson, which is probably to its detriment. The first Broadway production is still fresh in people's minds, and some of the characters sound so similar across both discs that you cannot help but draw comparisons with all of them... so here are mine. Vanessa Williams is a different witch; she has an odd vocal inflection in her "ugly" phase, I prefer her sound in the latter half of the recording. She performs well, in general, but cheats a little on higher notes. Laura Benanti's Cinderella is really very good. Her voice is very strong and superbly controlled; she's almost in a class all her own. As a matter of personal preference I'll take Stephen DeRosa's Baker over Chip Zien, because I think Mr. DeRosa has a softness of character in his portrayal that appeals to me. Kerry O'Malley, as the Baker's Wife, cannot compete with Joanna Gleeson, but those were very large, Tony-winning shoes to fill and I don't fault Ms. O'Malley for trying. The poor woman playing Jack's Mother (Marylouise Burke) cannot sing, and in a way the casting reminds me of the use of Glynis Johns as the original Desiree in A Little Night Music (or, more accurately, the use of Hermione Gingold as Desiree's mother). The other characters sound too much like their original counterparts... for "I Know Things Now", you can almost convince yourself you're hearing the original Broadway cast recording.
There are, in my opinion, some general improvements in this recording over the original Broadway cast recording. First (and not least), the CD was wonderfully packaged by Nonesuch, with a full, 88-page libretto peppered with fill-color production photos. Also, the diction is better across the board; Sondheim's tricky lyrics come across with great clarity. Finally, the vocal balance of the entire cast is better, providing a better execution of the score as a whole -- I think this is closer to the way Sondheim meant it. Some people call this the "music school sound", implying that the vocals are so technically accurate that there is no emotion in them, but I don't think that's the case. Sondheim often paints with rhythms in vocals, and when a cast is unbalanced the full effect of what's written is lost. The "Finale", in particular, is communicated much more effectively in this recording due to this balance.
If you're in the unique position of not owning ANY recording of this show, I'd have to say that at this point you can randomly choose one, depending on availability, and you'll essentially get the same thing. Both recordings have stronger and weaker points that cancel each other out, and enough similarity to make you wonder why they wanted to record it again in the first place. If you already own Into The Woods you probably won't gain much by making a second (or third) investment.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2002
Yes, basically the recording of the new revival of "Into the Woods" sounds the same as the original just with different singers. There are some minor changes, most of them will not make fans cringe. Here's my view on each song on the new recording:
"Prologue: Into the Woods" - They added a little chime intro before the Narrator begins. They have added some dialogue that was cut out from the original. My only problem with this song is that all of the parts sung by Marylouise Burke, who plays Jack's Mother, have been transposed drastically lower because of her limited and extremely low range. Her portrayal is nowhere near the caliber of the original Mother, Barbara Bryne.
"Cinderella at the Grave" - This is interesting, mainly because Laura Benanti sings both Cinderella and Cinderella's Mother. Laura is brilliant as always.
"Hello, Little Girl" - More dialogue added, one Wolf added. As Wolf #1 lusts for Little Red Ridinghood, Wolf #2 goes after the Three Little Pigs. The song is probably more effective when acted out on stage.
"I Guess This Is Goodbye"/"Maybe They're Magic" - We see a glimpse of Jack, sung by Adam Wylie. Kerry O'Malley is refreshing as the Baker's Wife; it's nice to hear someone younger-sounding sing the part, although I personally loved Joanna Gleason's performance.
"Our Little World" - This song was cut from the original. We get to hear Rapunzel sing more. The song is sung as the Witch climbs up Rapunzel's hair and the end is quite amusing.
"I Know Things Now" - Molly Ephraim seems fitting for Little Red Ridinghood but I would like to see her act the song out rather than listen to the song since it sounds almost exactly like the original.
"A Very Nice Prince"/"First Midnight"/"Giants in the Sky" - They cut half of "A Very Nice Prince"! Ugh, how could they? Both Laura and Kerry sing beautifully. In "First Midnight," the advice given by the Grandmother is cut out since the same actress who plays her is now also Cinderella's Stepmother. Adam Wylie sings "Giants" well but, I don't know, I just prefer the original, sung by Ben Wright. Still one of my favorite songs.
"Agony" - The only thing bothering me in this song is the end. I prefer the quiet ending of the original to the new forte ending. The two Princes don't blend as well as the original two.
"It Takes Two" - A wonderful rendition. Very well done.
"Stay with Me" - This was transposed down for Vanessa Williams. Vanessa doesn't sing it with the same feeling Bernadette Peters did. Vanessa really doesn't have that kind of lullaby voice style, but I guess she tried.
"On the Steps of the Palace" - Wow, Laura Benanti just shines in this song. She is just amazing! I love this song and she does it justice. However, they added Little Red and Jack at the end for some harmony. I don't get how they fit in, I'll have to see it played out on stage.
"Ever After" - Nothing's really changed. They added the "To be continued..." part which was left out in the original. They hold the last note a bit longer, I guess to give it more of a finale feel.
"Prologue: So Happy" - Nothing's changed really.
"Agony (Reprise)" - Um, again I prefer the piano ending as opposed to the new forte one.
"Lament" - Vanessa just doesn't have the feeling Bernadette put into the Witch. She tries, but oh well.
"Any Moment"/"Moments in the Woods" - Gregg Edelman sings it well, but the song is cut. Kerry is lovely once again. Her version is beautiful and I love the new ending, she sings the last few notes an octave higher rather than the blahsome original ending. Wonderful.
"Your Fault" - Um, still the same craziness here.
"Last Midnight" - There are a couple of new verses added. The Witch now sings to the Baker's baby. Vanessa's version of this song is her most impressive on the recording. I think it's well done.
"No More" - This was done well. Stephen DeRosa sings wonderfully and John McMartin does well too. Aw, touching.
"No One Is Alone" - Just beautiful. Laura's voice is angelic. Very effective, I loved it. The new harmonies at the end work well and Laura adds a crisp higher note at the end. Yay Laura!
"Finale: Children Will Listen" - It begins solemnly as each of the characters lays down his or her advice. It's a bit eerie. Kerry O'Malley once again does a great job. Vanessa is all right I guess, they transposed it down a little for her but it returns to the original key. Laura and Kerry (!) add harmony at the end of the Witch's solo. The ending's the same as the original except that Laura sings the "I wish" sooner than Kim Crosby did in the original.
All right, there's my voice about this recording. In all, the score hasn't changed that much, it's still the intriguing and twisted self that Sondheim made it to be. Vanessa sings pleasantly but not emotional enough for the Witch. Laura Benanti is heavenly as Cinderella, just as the original played by Kim Crosby. Kerry O'Malley is just as refreshing as the Baker's Wife. The rest of the cast (minus Marylouise Burke, I'm sorry I just didn't like her Jack's Mother) do a superb job of maintaining a wonderful recording. One thing I have noticed in this version is that all the songs seem rushed somehow, maybe to keep the entire score on one disc. Anyway, it still sounds great, it remains one of my favorites and I will probably see this production soon. So yes, get this CD, it's always delightful to go back for seconds.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2002
Sure, it's "not as good as the original," but honestly, has there ever been a revival of a Sondheim show that was. Almost without exception, Sondheim's exquisite scores have enjoyed original productions that have been beautifully sung, acted, and directed. Their cast recordings are definitive in almost every way. "Into the Woods" is perhaps one of the clearest examples of this. I have always felt that it was one of the most perfectly cast shows in Broadway history. There was not a single weak link, and there was nothing "wrong" with that production. Whatever one's opinion of the musical, there is no arguing with the director's vision or the production values of the original.
So, it's counterproductive and, I think, unfair to complain that this revival is "worse" than the original. No, I don't like it as much, but given the challenge of reviving a show so well-loved and fresh in the minds of so many, I think this production is quite successful.
The performances are very good, including that of Vanessa Williams. Her acting skills are mediocre, but her voice is beautiful and surprisingly flexible in the difficult role of the witch. Her pitch is spot on, her diction is very precise, and her singing is very effective. "Children Will Listen," in particular, is lovely. I do think she was slightly miscast in this role.
My only significant complaint is that Sondheim has once again indulged his impulse to revise and "improve" his scores. I do not like any of the changes that he made for this production. They don't add anything, take away just a little, but for the most part, they're annoying. Steve, if you're listening... we love you, you're perfect, don't change!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2002
When I first listened to this new version, I thought it reminded me more of the London version than the original Broadway one, because of the clunky opening chords and the low and gravelly voice of Jack's mother. But while these were similar to the darker London version, I soon saw that this version was no darker than the first. In fact, this revival is possibly lighter than the first. For one thing, the Baker's Wife, role portrayed so well by Joanna Gleason first on Broadway, has a sweeter, younger tone. While the actress' voice is wonderful, it almost detracts from the realness that the original character had- she was the one who could best pull us into the story because she was the one suffering from the most realistic problems. It is also harder to distinguish her from Cinderella in their duet because her voice is just as high. Contrary to a previous review, I thought that Adam Wylie did a wonderful job, and I think that his voice surpasses that of his predecessor in portraying the "young lad Jack." I also thought that the Baker, whose nervousness and quaint quirkiness brought him into our hearts on Broadway, is less endearing as a stronger and more "princly" version here.
Overall, I really like this version, but there is one thing that bothers me about the lyric rewrites. I sense that the writers have dumbed-down the musical- as if saying, "Here's what the audience didn't get the first time- let's make it clear as we can now." For one thing, several Mysterious Man references were cut out of "Last Midnight," and the Witch focuses more on the child than anyone else. The Witch has changed too- she has been given a soft spot for children, and is not as harsh as she might be, given what happens to her in the middle of the second act. All allusions to the Witch's situation with her mother from the 1987 version are now cleared up so that there are no possibilities for missing anything.
Though it may seem that all of these criticisms make up one bad review, I was actually pleasantly surprised by this version. Vanessa Williams has a great sarcastic and devious tone, and is able to bounce around from angry to pitiful in "Stay With Me" like a true witch. Laura Benanti is my favorite, with an amazing voice. The younger Jack and Little Red match up with the all-around younger cast, and while Cinderella's Prince is no Robert Westenberg, he can certainly hold his own with the rest of the great actors, making this a revival that deserves to be part of "Into the Woods" history.