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Sondheim et al.

Posting in a free moment before dashing back to holiday-weekend craziness...

Hm. Yep, as suspected, I really dislike Into the Woods. I find the songs annoying, and mostly unsingable unless you're a professional, but they stick in your head - so it's basically the worst combination of features a set of songs could have. It typifies what I dislike about musicals, when I dislike musicals: time-changes so frequent you feel like you're listening to a conversation set to weird rhythm; cutesy jokes that would be funny approximately once; cliched lyrics or else stretches for dumb rhymes; and recurring themes that are particularly irritating. MAN, I wanted to smack that Red Riding Hood after the first two times she sang "Into the woods to Grand-moth-er's-house!" Aaaaarrrghh.

And this was just on CD. Imagine if I had to sit through it in a theater.

I expected to like it, too. Sondheim, I thought, was consistently great. I love A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum - it may in fact be one of my favorite musicals ever. At the same time I bought Into the Woods I also bought A Little Night Music, which similarly I've never seen; but I really like that one. It has actual melodies and genuinely clever lyrics. (From "You Must Meet My Wife": "She'd strike you as unenlightened--" "No, I'd strike her first.")

Yeah, well, everyone's a critic. It's a tough line to walk, for songs in musicals: between being an edgy collection of patter (like most of Woods), versus going too "tuneful" and sounding like soft-rock (see for instance a great deal of The Scarlet Pimpernel, and even moments of the otherwise grand Phantom of the Opera).

Speaking of Scarlet Pimpernel, I considered doing a post comparing its views of the French Revolution with those expressed in Les Miserables. Sure, the Revolution in Les Mis is in the 1830's, not the original 1789 one, but it's the same basic movement if I understand correctly. Les Mis, basically, glorifies the naive revolutionaries who built barricades and worshipped the guillotine-thirsty forerunners of their cause. It's got lines like:

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Then join in the fight that will give you the right to be free!

Yes, very glamorous. Then again, if you look at it from the point of view of the innocent people whose heads got cut off, the way The Scarlet Pimpernel looks at it, you get some vivid lines as well:

Sing, swing, savour the sting
As she severs you, Madame Guillotine
Slice! come paradise
Our Delilah will shave you razor clean
God, when did man lose his reason?
Save us, my God, if you're there
God, can you not feel the terror like a fire in the air?

And yet for all that, Les Mis is far and away a better musical (music-wise and character-development-wise) than Pimpernel, dammit. *sigh* I hate it when art and morals don't match up. Which is most of the time.



( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 4th, 2004 04:10 pm (UTC)
I've been listening to a Cole Porter collection I just picked up and have discovered that not everything Porter touched was gold. From his "Brush Up Your Shakespeare":

If she says your behaviour is heinous
Kick her right in the Coriolanus.

Oh, Cole... really now!
Sep. 4th, 2004 10:26 pm (UTC)
*cringes at the corniness*

Oh, that is pretty bad. Ouch.
Sep. 5th, 2004 09:11 am (UTC)
That's actually fairly tame for Porter. He was fairlty well known for his vulgarity and corniness.
Sep. 5th, 2004 06:14 pm (UTC)
As Raethe has already stated, Porter is known for being a bit cheeky (and obscene). Take the songs
Give Him The Ooh La La, Too Darn Hot and Do the Dirty for example. Cole Porter's orginal lyrics were often considered "too hot to handle" so he'd make a play on words here and there and steep them in innuendo. Anything Goes - by way of another example- personifies his cheekiness, as well as his take on society, in a simplistic way:
In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
Now heaven knows, anything

Good authors too who once knew better words
Now only use four letter words writing
Anything goes

Oh the irony. Porter faced the red marker of censors more than once, thus he was poking fun of his own situation. The orginal lyrics to "I Want to Be A Yale Boy" could make one blush for their slashiness.

Porter should be taken all in great fun.

Sep. 4th, 2004 07:01 pm (UTC)
I have always felt rather lonely in my dislike of Woods, being surrounded by many who herald it as the end-all-be-all of musical theater. Thank you. SOmuch. ^_^
Sep. 4th, 2004 10:27 pm (UTC)
No accounting for tastes, but hey, no problem. ;) For REAL music may I suggest the new-ish Jane Eyre musical. 'Tis my current fave, anyway.
Sep. 4th, 2004 10:19 pm (UTC)


Into the Woods is liek...my favorite. :) My family hates it because I sing the music all the time, though. So I'm used to getting along with haters thereof. ;) Besides, you can't hear me humming...

Sep. 4th, 2004 10:28 pm (UTC)
Eek! Sorry. I meant to include an apology to those who do in fact like Into the Woods. :)

Anyway, I know how you feel, since I'm apparently the ONLY ONE AROUND who genuinely loved Moulin Rouge. Bunch of heartless bastards I'm surrounded by...*mutter mutter*...
Sep. 5th, 2004 07:22 am (UTC)
I liked Moulin Rouge a lot! Admittedly it was the Ewan McGregor that did it for me. Any movie he does makes me happy. But still...
Sep. 6th, 2004 12:14 pm (UTC)
I admit the Ewan factor influenced me a lot too. But so be it! :)
Anyway, I've found plenty of people online who agree with me, but in "real life" it's been tough.
Sep. 5th, 2004 09:18 am (UTC)
ITW is one of the few Sondheim musicals, actually, that non-professional groups can pull off credibly.

"Can't we just pursue our lives with our children and our wives til that happy day arrives, how can you ignore....
All the witches, all the curses, and the wolves, all the lies, the false hopes, the goodbyes, the reverses...
All the wondering what even worse is still in store...all the witches. All the giants...no more."

*shrug* Highschool drama clubs can even manage it.
Sep. 6th, 2004 12:10 pm (UTC)
I guess I didn't specify: I meant to say most of the songs are difficult to sing unless you're a professional. Some are easy enough, yeah. But the patter-y ones that rely on impeccable timing, and require the singers to jump all over the scale, landing on odd notes along the way, could be slaughtered way too easily.

Anyway, given my feelings on it, I'm not likely to go see it even if a high school drama club does perform it nearby. ;)

As for those lyrics in particular....*twitch* They strike me as Unnecessary Explanation of Symbolism, along with a hefty dose of Trying To Make Lightweight Comedy Mean A Little Too Much In The End. I much prefer the "Where is the moral? There is no moral" of Funny Thing Happened. Sometimes comedy illustrates morals wonderfully. Other times it comes off as, "So, children, what lesson did we learn from all this?"

Guess which way Woods strikes me. ;)
Sep. 6th, 2004 05:20 pm (UTC)
You are so right. I've been so wrong. Thank you for reiterating your position in essentially the same terms so it would be clearer for me. Each of the 6 times I've seen it staged, I was so blind as to how bad they really were. I hadn't realised that the pittery pattery actually ended up pittery plunkity in the unskilled and awkward voices of the non professionally trained. I shall have to be more careful when looking at performances in the future.

Btw, ITW isn't a light comedy that is comparable to Forum. It is a drama with comedic elements. They aren't remotely comparable. Forum exists to support debauchery while ITW exists to take healthy stabs at sentimentality and romanticism of happy endings.
Sep. 6th, 2004 07:58 am (UTC)
Have you heard Forbidden Broadway's wonderful parody of ITW , "Into the Words"? Oh, it's hilarious. I do love ITW , and it's spot on. Makes such fun of Sondheim:

The thoughts are clear, if understood
I have no peer 'cause I'm so good
The words are the stars, the stars are just wood
I sort of hate to ask it, but what's a rhyme for basket

Into the words
That trip your lip, and fry your brain
And sprain your tongue
Into the words
So complicated grown-ups find it scary ...

Sep. 6th, 2004 08:21 am (UTC)
...er, that should be the score is the star
Sep. 6th, 2004 12:11 pm (UTC)
I have not heard it, but it sounds just my sort of thing.
Love the "what's a rhyme for 'basket'?" especially. :D
Sep. 6th, 2004 04:57 pm (UTC)
And this was just on CD. Imagine if I had to sit through it in a theater.

Upon retrospect, this line makes me a bit uncomfortable. I don't wish to split hairs, but taking the soundtrack as being representative of a show is a bit like reading the cliff's notes of a book and writing an essay about it.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )