Saturday, June 21, 2014

No More

They disappoint,
They disappear,
They die but they don't...*

I have surprised myself by the reaction I had to the latest news about the film of "Into the Woods" being made more family friendly. Of course, I am disappointed. I am not, however, surprised and I still love Sondheim and support his support of the movie.  And those of you reading this who know me are probably surprised too. Let me explain.

They disappoint
In turn, I fear.
Forgive, though, they won't...

I do not like censorship. I find the bizarre notion of cleaning things up on television fundamentally flawed. In the U.S., the F word is beeped out in movies, even at 3a.m. but commercials for Viagra are shown in the middle of the day. A child is going to hear the F word (that's the least of his problems) but one can explain that it is not a good word and he should not use it (for now, at least; in time he can use it to great effect). I would have no problem explaining that to a child. I would, however, have a very difficult time explaining erectile disfunction. And that is certainly not something that they should be hearing about. Maybe this is just me, but I find the morality censors strange.

No more questions,
No more tests.
Comes the day you say, "What for?"
Please - no more.

I believe in letting children read and see just about everything. Of course we protect them and I do not suggest putting your two year old in front of "Breaking Bad".  But, I do believe in letting pre-teens and teens watch things that are labelled P.G. or 12 or 15 and so on. One of my favourite film experiences of all time was seeing a 15 rated film when I was too young for it. I was on a high because my English teacher had recommended it to me and I thought there was something thrilling about her telling me to see it when it was strictly above my age group.  It was "When Harry Met Sally".  This is a very tame example given what my parents allowed me to watch, or turned a blind eye when I was watching or, in many cases, encouraged me to watch. Shakespeare is hardly light fair and there are plenty of sexual references. But take your children! What they are not ready to ask about or understand will go over their heads.  If they are ready, they are ready and the discussion should begin. If a child asks a question, we should answer. And the answer should be the TRUTH. There are ways to answer that will leave most children satisfied. If they keep probing then they are ready for more. The dangers are in the lies.

Original Broadway Cast of "Into the Woods"

Just more questions.
Different kind.

It seems that I would be appalled by Disney's decision to make cuts and change things in "Into the Woods". Of course I am. But, having read Sondheim's defense and the various facebook posts by friends who are disgusted with the Disneyfying (is this a word made up by Forbidden Broadway?), I started to think that maybe this dumbed down version is all right. It is not what I want. It is not ideal. It is better than nothing. If Sondheim is being exposed to a greater audience then I am on board. What is Sondheim leaving behind? Art that is genius. He makes us think, feel, laugh, cry and discuss. I do not know if any songs are being cut in the film version of "Jersey Boys" but I can't imagine that anyone would care. (apologies to die-hard J.B. fans). The film version of "Cabaret" is very different from the original. Sally Bowles is American, Fraulein Shneider does not sing those great songs from the stage version. The film, however, is considered a cult classic. 

We disappoint,
We leave a mess,
We die but we don't...

I did not like the film version of "Sweeney Todd".  Apart from the fact I was not playing Mrs. Lovett, there were other issues. The lack of a chorus spoiled so much of what makes the stage show and the score work.  Tobias was too young. he does not need to be a child.  He has childlike qualities but is not a child.

I have never seen the movie of "A Little Night Music" but I am pretty sure I would not like it either.

I often talk about seeing "Follies" in London when I was 13. My parents took me. Is it suitable for a child? It changed my life! They had taken me to "A Little Night Music" when I was 11 and I am sad to say (don't tell Steve) that I was bored and did not understand it. It was over my head. But it certainly did not damage me.  Now it's one of my favourites.  I am eternally grateful to parents who exposed me to things that were way beyond my years. Not many children are so lucky. So surely this is better than nothing? Give them a taste. Let them hear a brilliant lyric and melody. Let them want more. The good parents will immediately show the interested child the DVD of the regional Broadway version and great dinner table conversation will ensue. I am not overjoyed about the junior version of "Into the Woods" performed by schools. Let them do the whole darn thing, I say. Again, though, it is something. A little taste to make them want more and surely after learning that first Act they will be desperate to know what happens after happily ever after. After catching the Sondheim bug as a child I craved more. I found every show, every film score and searched for cut songs too.

Meryl Streep as the Witch in the upcoming film version

Songs have always been cut from shows. I was devastated to read that "No more" will be no more.  Simon Russell Beale is playing the father and we know from his turn on "Sondheim at 80" at the proms that he could handle that song. It is a great song. It makes me sad but I am also excited to hear the song Sondheim wrote for Meryl Streep (apparently he added a little note to the music telling her not to f**k it up.) The brilliant original London production of "Into the Woods" (thanks again to my parents for taking me to see it) was different from the Broadway one. The narrator did not double as the mysterious man, "Our Little World" was added. Art changes. Think of all the brilliant Sondheim songs cut from various shows over the years. We have opinions and people are going to argue the merits of "Lucy and Jessie" over "Ah, but Underneath". All I can say is I am grateful he wrote them.

Stage versions and film versions are never the same. This is not new. The fact that there is such discussion is wonderful and I suspect mainly because of the passion of the kind of fans Sondheim attracts. And that's great. Art is not easy and it changes and we have to accept that. Sondheim says: "You know, if I were a Disney executive I probably would say the same thing," adding: "...censorship is part of our puritanical ethics...There has to be a point at which you don't compromise anymore, but that may mean that you won't get anyone to sell your painting or perform your musical. You have to deal with reality."We might not like it, but what are the options? If you were Sondheim, what would you do? He is letting people see his work. And if the audiences of Broadway were smarter, we would be seeing his work far more often in the original and with the kind of run Phantom has. He has not had that success. Can you blame him for letting Disney do what they are doing? I don't. How can I? I love him.

We disappoint
In turn, I guess.
Forget, though, we won't...

*No More from "Into the Woods" 
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim