I think that one of the biggest movies last year was the star-studded (Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp and other) Into the Woods, a Hollywood remake of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical. It was amazing. (The Bernadette Peters et al. Broadway version from 1991 is still available on Amazon Instant, if you’ve never seen it. It’s well done but the video quality is mixed.) Anna Kendrick (of “Cups” fame in Pitch Perfect) plays the Cinderella character and Disney’s pre-released her version of “On the Steps of the Palace.”
The opening of the song clearly marks it as “Broadway-Symphonic.” From the first note, the song has Stephen Sondheim written all over it. I was stunned how Ms. Kendrick sounded as if she has been on Broadway all of her life in this song. (The last time she was on Broadway she played a young girl (Dinah Lord in High Society) back in 1998. Yes she has a beautiful voice, but the kicker is she can act with her voice. As she sings “well it means that he cares,” we hear the questioning reflection of the Prince’s intent. It’s hard to perform in a sing-song style and make it sound great, but Ms. Kendrick pulls it off. In the moments where she elongates at the end of thought, we really hear the haunting beauty of her voice.
The lyrics are, as always with Mr. Sondheim, clever. We see a brilliant set-up of the whole situation: “But then what if he knew/ Who I am when I know/ That I’m not what he thinks/That he wants?/ But then what if I am/ What a Prince would envision?“ I really love her thinking through purposefully leaving her shoe: “I’ll just leave him a clue/ For example, a shoe./And then see what he’ll do./Now it’s he and not you./Who is stuck with a shoe.” I’m looking forward to seeing Chris Pine stuck with a clue of a shoe.
Mr. Sondheim did have to re-write the song somewhat for the movie. In the Broadway version, there are parts that are performed as an aside to the audience which doesn’t play well in a movie. The re-write, however, is relatively minor, but is indicative of his direct involvement he has with the movie and the care he takes with his songs. This is definitely not your Daddy’s Disney movie. “Cups” only hints at how well Ms. Kendrick sings on this, she fully acts within her singing and articulates well. It is a beautifully performed song and I waited with bated breath for the movie’s release after I heard it.