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.