Sondheim's Songs Go 'Into The Woods' And Onto The Big Screen Director Rob Marshall is no stranger to the movie musical — and now, he's taking on the challenge of adapting Stephen Sondheim's knotty, complicated songs to the big screen with Into the Woods.
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Sondheim's Songs Go 'Into The Woods' And Onto The Big Screen

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Sondheim's Songs Go 'Into The Woods' And Onto The Big Screen

Sondheim's Songs Go 'Into The Woods' And Onto The Big Screen

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"Into The Woods" is a 1987 Stephen Sondheim musical that we'd now call a mashup. A baker and his wife want a child. A little girl in a red hood who lifts pies from their shop lives next to a witch who once kidnapped the baker's baby sister, whom she now keeps locked in a tower. But she'll reverse the curse on the baker and his wife if they can find a white cow, a red cape, long blonde hair and a gold slipper.

It's "Jack And The Beanstalk" meets "Little Red Riding Hood," "Rapunzel" and "Cinderella." Rob Marshall, who won the Academy Award with his film of the musical "Chicago," has brought "Into The Woods" onto the screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "INTO THE WOODS")

DANIEL HUTTLESTONE: (As Jack) (Singing) There are giants in the sky. There are big, tall, terrible giants in the sky.

SIMON: Daniel Huttlestone is Jack. The film also stars, in no particular order, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Christine Baranski, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Tracey Ullman - I could go on - and Meryl Streep as a witch who can make your blood run cold or unlock your heart. Rob Marshall joins us from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

ROB MARSHALL: Oh, thank you so much.

SIMON: And why did you want to do this Sondheim - this musical?

MARSHALL: You know, I loved it. Originally, you know, I loved it when I saw it in 1987. I thought it was an incredibly entertaining and funny and profound piece. I mean, it says so much about parents and children. It says so much about the consequences of wishes.

In a way, I really see this as a sort of a 21st-century modern fairy tale, even though it was written in the last century. It feels so relevant for today, especially for children of today who are dealing with some big issues. If I had to say the central meaning of the piece would be - it comes in the song "No One is Alone."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ONE IS ALONE")

ANNA KENDRICK AND JAMES CORDEN: (As Cinderella and the Baker) (Singing in unison) But you are not alone.

ANNA KENDRICK: (As Cinderella) (Singing) Believe me no one is alone.

JAMES CORDEN: (As the Baker) (Singing) No one is alone, believe me.

MARSHALL: The most beautiful song.

SIMON: Yes.

MARSHALL: And it...

SIMON: Beautiful - it tears your heart out, but go ahead.

MARSHALL: It does. It does. Well, it lets children know that they're not alone in the world and I think that's important for today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO ONE IS ALONE")

KENDRICK: (As Cinderella) (Singing) People make mistakes.

CORDEN: (As the Baker) (Singing) Fathers.

KENDRICK: (As Cinderella) (Singing) Mothers.

KENDRICK AND CORDEN: (As Cinderella and the Baker) (Singing in unison) People make mistakes holding to their own, thinking they're alone.

KENDRICK: (As Cinderella) (Singing) Honor their mistakes.

CORDEN: (As the Baker) (Singing) Fight for their mistakes.

KENDRICK: (As Cinderella) (Singing) Everybody makes.

KENDRICK AND CORDEN: (As Cinderella and the Baker) (Singing in unison) One another's terrible mistakes.

SIMON: They're not singing Sesame Street. It's Stephen Sondheim.

MARSHALL: Exactly.

SIMON: Stephen Sondheim himself makes jokes that actors sometimes find his wording difficult to get their mouths around.

MARSHALL: Yeah, I mean, it's a challenge for actors, no question, but it's also a gift because, you know, there's such beautiful material and depth in these songs. They're beautiful stories unto themselves. You know, they always have a beginning, middle and an end. At the end of a song, someone's always different than they are at the beginning.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT TAKES TWO")

JAMES CORDEN AND EMILY BLUNT: (As the Baker and the Baker's Wife) (Singing in unison) We've changed. We're strangers. I'm meeting you in the woods. Who minds what dangers? I know we'll get pass the woods.

MARSHALL: The story and the character work happens inside the song and it's just - it's thrilling for an actor to sing a Sondheim song.

SIMON: A few years ago, I think shortly before you made "Chicago," people were talking about movie musicals are over, but you seem to think that they're coming back.

MARSHALL: Yes, we were - I was told (laughter) many times that the musical was dead when I was doing "Chicago" and, you know, I never really believed that a genre is dead. I really feel it's sort of the actual execution of the pieces and the careful way in which you have to approach them. I mean, everybody thought the sword-and-sandal film was dead until "Gladiator" arrived.

You know, it happens a lot. I believe in the genre of musicals on film. It's an American-born genre - very proud of that. You know, when they don't work they're hard to watch because they're awkward and people start to sing and it doesn't feel right. And one of the goals in a film is to make sure that the singing is earned - that by the time they get to singing, they have no other choice but to sing. In other words, it's organic. It comes from story.

And if you've done your job you shouldn't be aware that they're singing. It's coming from that place and when it works there's nothing like it. I mean, it lifts you in a way that no other genre can.

SIMON: A question that you have to ask anyone of note in the movie industry this week is Sony has decided not to put out their film "The Interview," which would open on Christmas day, after threats from hackers. Do you have any reaction?

MARSHALL: Well, you know, it's a combination of feelings. You know, censorship is not a great thing to have to deal with, but also in terms of actually calling out this actual character to be a real person - I think there's something a little dangerous about that.

And I think the same film could've been created with the humor and the wit that it had and the political statement that it had in a sort of a more responsible way. We're just living in a different world.

SIMON: Do you have another musical on the boards?

MARSHALL: (Laughter) You know, it's so funny. I'm not very good at preparing stuff - new film while I'm working on a film. This film took three years to make, so I don't have anything right now, but I will say that I've always wanted to do an original musical for film because for me some of the great musicals.

Like, for instance, from the Arthur Freed unit, like, "Singin' In The Rain" or "Bandwagon" or "Easter Parade" or all of those - all of those were original musicals made for film. When you do that you're not having to translate something from stage to film - a Broadway show - but you're actually creating it for film. That would be thrilling.

SIMON: Rob Marshall - his new film, Stephen Sondheim's "Into The Woods." Thanks so much for being with us.

MARSHALL: Oh, it's a thrill. Thank you so much, enjoyed it very much.

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