Into the Woods is One of the Best Musicals of All Time

You heard me. I don’t know if Into the Woods is theΒ best musical of all time–I don’t like to get into debates like that–but I have to say that as far as accessibility, entertainment, layered meaning, musical score–all those things go, Into the Woods ranks right up there with the best of them. The fact that it got aced out by Phantom for the Tony for Best Musical in 1988 is just ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong. Phantom of the Opera is all fine and good, but let’s face it. If there were a musical cage match with Sondheim in one corner, and Weber in the other, Sondheim would take about 3 seconds before he smashed a chair over Weber’s head. (I would pay money to see this.)

Denisa and the kids and I watched this Sunday evening, and I was again reminded of just how great this musical is. Some of it is that I’ve got some sentimental attachment to it, obviously. It was the first musical I ever saw on Broadway, and I saw it in its original run back in ’88, with Bernadette Peters and the gang. It was fantastic then, and I’m really happy that version was filmed so I could rewatch it whenever I want to these days. (And it’s on Netflix Instantwatch right now? Awesomeness!)

But when I was nine watching it live, it was a fun and funny musical that mashed all sorts of fairy tales together in a bunch of exciting ways. TRC and DC thought the same thing when we were watching it the other night. They enjoyed it (although at 2.5 hours, it was a bit long for them–was I that squirmy when I was eight?)

Watching it now as a parent, I saw all sorts of other subtexts that completely passed over my head when I was nine. It’s a really adult musical, but it works perfectly well on both levels.

Then again, I realize that I’m not necessarily the end all be all critic when it comes to musicals. I’ve seen my fair share, but that share is by no means exhaustive. So my question to you, O readers, would be what your top five musicals would be. Only stage musicals. No film versions, though I realizes this trims down the candidates by quite a bit.

For me personally? (Emphasis on the personal) In no order:

  • Into the Woods
  • Les Mis
  • Sweeney Todd
After those three, you get into a lot of tie breakers in my book. Maybe I’m forgetting some. I’m sure some of you will correct me.
What are my requirements for a musical? It’s got to have a great story. It’s got to have great music. The production I saw of it has to be fantastic. Characters high up there. I don’t know–the same requirements I have for a great anything, I guess.
What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Into the Woods is One of the Best Musicals of All Time”

  1. Blegh. Into the Woods is probably my least favorite musical I’ve ever seen. The music is too repetitive, and they sing-talk way too much for my liking. My husband likes it, but I honestly can’t see why.

    Ugh, now it’s going to be one of those days where I sing “into the woods, into the woods, into the woods” all day in my head :/

    Les Miserables is also one of my favorites; Civil War, Aida, Ragtime, Little Shop… in fact, Into the Woods may be the only musical I’ve ever disliked.

  2. I took a Sondheim class in college, and on the first day the teacher asked everyone what their favorite Sondheim musical was. Almost everyone said Into the Woods. At the end of the semester, having studied the entire collection in detail, he asked it again on the last day. Only one person said Into the Woods, and oddly it wasn’t one of those who’d picked it the first time.

  3. If I had to pick a list of favorites, most of them would be Sondheims.

    Sunday in the Park with George
    Little Shop of Horrors

    That’ll do for a top five. I used to like Les Mis, until I saw it live and realized all they do is stand there and sing the score. I still like the score I guess, just not the show. In terms of newer stuff, my wife and I saw In the Heights a few years ago on Broadway and really loved it; kind of classic Rogers and Hammerstein structure with most of the songs done as rap and hip hop. Very fun.

  4. My faves, in no order whatsoever:
    Les Mis
    Miss Saigon
    Into The Woods
    Blood Brothers (I saw this in London back in 1997, one of the best musicals I had ever seen, I don’t think it ever made its way over here)
    Jekyll and Hyde

    I am so excited it’s on Netflix, I haven’t seen the Bernadette Peters version in years!

  5. Becky–Wow. Into the Woods the only one you disliked? I can’t relate, but it’s just further proof to me that tastes vary widely. πŸ™‚

    Dan–Interesting. So you’re saying I just don’t know enough about musicals, if Into the Woods is my favorite Sondheim? πŸ™‚

    Kirsten–I haven’t seen Blood Brothers, Miss Saigon, or Jekyll. I know the music to Saigon, at least. Does this make me a bad human being?

    Hilary–See my comment to Kirsten. πŸ™‚

  6. Into the Woods is special for me because watching it was what tipped the scales for Laurie and me to take that step “into the woods.”

    We were on a trip to NYC and saw two musicals that day: Starlight Express (spectacular roller skating but otherwise nothing special) and Woods.

    We had talked marriage before but were waiting before making things definite. At the conclusion of Into the Woods we both said, “What the heck are we waiting for?” and had just enough time to hightail it to Tiffany’s before closing. We picked out the ring, took a carriage ride around Central Park for the official proposal, and the rest is history. I’ve never had a single regret, so “way to go, Sondheim!”

    In addition to some of the others mentioned here I’d add a couple of old standbys: The Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof.

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