This week, Rachel Carpman, a writer and dramaturg, geeks out (over the phone) with Ethan Heard, freelance director and Co-Artistic Director of Heartbeat Opera.
Today's Topic:INTO THE WOODS!
Rachel Carpman: Let's freak out about the Into the Woods movie for a minute, especially since it's nominated for three Oscars (including Best Supporting Actress for Meryl Streep).
Ethan Heard: Oh my god, I was so drawn in. I had predicted that Rob Marshall was going to do a panning-out shot that would become aerial, and you'd see all the characters converging, so my sisters grabbed my knee when that shot happened. I felt vindicated.
Rachel: I mean, there's something so beautiful about the first half of that musical anyway.
Ethan: And I think they captured the tone beautifully. Seeing Meryl do her thing up close, where you're just close-up on her face, she's getting to deliver the song in a way that you just can't in a theatre, where she colors every word and every syllable so specifically, and then she kind of rips her voice apart a little bit. I mean, it's not vocal destruction, but she's doing something vocally that might be hard to sustain eight shows a week. Especially in "Stay with me." I was just like, "This is a f***ing master class." I loved it.
Rachel: I think you're right---you can do that on film and you can't do that in theatre. But there is something so theatrical about Into the Woods that I think they were able to capture on film because it stays in that one location. I felt like they were staying in woods that looked like the same woods over and over again, so it did kind of feel like a play. And the careful choreography---I guess I noticed it the most with the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, the very Broadway choreography.
Ethan: And I thought "It Takes Two" was maybe less successful because it was so, like, cheesy and stagy. I kind of loved it---because I'm a Broadway nerd---but it definitely felt like the least successful blocking of a song for film. But that opening sequence…
Rachel: And you came out talking about Meryl, but I came out talking about Emily Blunt.
Ethan: Oh. You know, I saw it twice, and I did marvel at her more the second time.
Rachel: But you were saying something about that opening sequence?
Ethan: Oh, just that it was written so well to be filmic. So all the intercutting was really successful. I like all the little contemporary… well, not contemporary, but sort of improv-y lines that James Corden put in. Maybe there weren't even that many, but in the bakery scene…
Rachel: "She's a thief!"
Ethan: Yeah! He's like "Oh my god, she's taking all the pastries!"
Rachel: It was adorable.
Ethan: Can we talk about "Last Midnight" though?
Rachel: Oh yes.
Ethan: Well, first of all, it's drag. It's. High. Drag. I cannot wait for drag queens to go to town with that costume and that wig. And those fans! I feel like it's what Elphaba wants to be in "No Good Deed." And it was so exciting---I was like, "Oh my god, how can any theatre production do that better?" And I don't think we can now---that's what scares me. How do you top that?
Rachel: Ugh, I know. So, I have a question. Did you, like me, grow up on that other movie of Into the Woods?
Ethan: I definitely watched it.
Rachel: Because I was thinking about how it's still a movie of a Broadway show that we watched. And that's definitely the cast recording that I had.
Ethan: Right. And I definitely thought of Joanna Gleason's death, and I thought of Joanna Gleason's use of the scarf, and compared them very closely to Emily Blunt's.
Rachel: Have you ever done Into the Woods?
Ethan: I did a scene---I did "Any Moment" in a scene study class.
Rachel: I saw the 2002 revival, with Vanessa Williams as the Witch…
Ethan: Oh yeah, me too.
Rachel: Do you remember anything about that?
Ethan: I remember they changed the lyric about the chair.
Ethan: In the "Witch's Rap," they changed it to "snake" and they had her wig come alive and her staff became a snake or something. Does that ring a bell? She also levitated when she transformed.
Rachel: I think they were using the same technology as the Beast's transformation in Beauty and the Beast…
Ethan: Yeah, exactly! I think they were really trying to.
Rachel: I remember a lot of primary colors in that production.
Ethan: Yeah, and the storybook set.
Rachel: Yeah---a big storybook. Which I think almost worked, but then it got a little limiting. And now the show is back, right? Roundabout brought Fiasco's stripped down/trunk showInto the Woods to New York?
Ethan: Oh yeah. I've heard it's good.
Rachel: What do you think it is about this musical, that we just keep doing it?
Ethan: Well. We love fairy tales. We all grow up on them, so it's sort of a shared set of stories. We love the magic. It kind of automatically appeals to younger and older people---a sophisticated twist on childhood material.
Rachel: And because it's not grounded in daily life, there are no references that will ever go out of style. It's timeless.
Ethan: There's something satisfying about the interweaving of the stories. I was really admiring that---how well the book is constructed. And then, of course, the songs are just so frickin' brilliant. "It's Your Fault?" Such a tour-de-force of lyric writing. The lyrics are so witty, and also he explores very logical arguments that they could go through.
Rachel: And if you go back and pull the first act apart, you see how it's planted every single seed that turns into a beanstalk in the second act. Literally and figuratively.
Ethan: I know. James Lapine must have been like, "Well done, Steve." They both must have been, because they rocked it.