Sondheim On Changing ‘Into The Woods’ for Disney, and Living With Censorship

In a Master Class at Sardi’s with a group of drama teachers, Stephen Sondheim revealed some of the changes that Disney is making to its film adaptation of the stage musical “Into The Woods.”

As reported by Larissa MacFarquhar in The New Yorker, the conversation about the new film began when a teacher at Dalton said they were thinking of doing “Into The Woods” this year.

“And what did they object to,” Sondheim interrupted.

“Infidelity, a wolf being lascivious, that the whole connection with Red Riding Hood is sexual.”

“Well, you’ll be happy to know that Disney had the same objections,” Sondheim replied. He continued: “…You will find in the movie that Rapunzel does not get killed, and the prince does not sleep with the baker’s wife.”

The teachers gasped – and asked but then what happens to the song Any Moment, if the prince doesn’t sleep with the baker’s wife. “Don’t say the song is cut.”

“The song is cut….I’m sorry, I should say, the song is probably cut.”

“Stick up for that song!”

“I did, I did. But Disney said, we don’t want Rapunzel to die, so we replotted it. I won’t tell you what happens, but we wrote a new song to cover it.”

The  teachers felt guilty that they too had to produce bowdlerized versions of musical theater. The students “feel censored; they don’t feel trusted.”

“And they’re right,” Sondheim replied. “But you have to explain to them that censorship is part of our puritanical ethic, and it’s something that they’re going ot have to deal with. 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. We have to deal with reality.”

(The article is fully available online only to subscribers)

Update June 23:

Sondheim released a statement:

An article in The New Yorker misreporting my “Master Class” conversation about censorship in our schools with seventeen teachers from the Academy for Teachers a couple of weeks ago has created some false impressions about my collaboration with the Disney Studio on the film version of Into the Woods. The fact is that James (Lapine, who wrote both the show and the movie) and I worked out every change from stage to screen with the producers and with Rob Marshall, the director. Despite what The New Yorker article may convey, the collaboration was genuinely collaborative and always productive.

When the conversation with the teachers occurred, I had not yet seen a full rough cut of the movie. Coincidentally, I saw it immediately after leaving the meeting and, having now seen it a couple of times, I can happily report that it is not only a faithful adaptation of the show, it is a first-rate movie.

And for those who care, as the teachers did, the Prince’s dalliance is still in the movie, and so is “Any Moment.”

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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