Neil Patrick Harris’ BEST TIME EVER Is Really Just More of a Good Time

Originally written for and published on

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s this: there’s very little that Neil Patrick Harris cannot do. Whether it’s swinging from a giant Tony Award at Radio City Music Hall, penning a best selling memoir, or suiting up as everyone’s favorite eternal bachelor, it’s safe to say Mr. Harris is a man ofmany talents. So when it was announced he would be starring in his own variety hour this fall, there was little doubt he’d be able to pull it off. That being said, there were also expectations. Large expectations. But more on that later.

Best Time Ever can best be described as a late night Ellen with some Broadway-esque flair. In layman’s terms: it’s a quirky, fun hour that includes (hilariously) trolling unsuspecting audience members, messing with celebrities, playing pranks, telling jokes, and not-so-impromptu karaoke sessions. Oh, not to mention Neil Patrick Harris’ loveable, insanely contagious humor and personality.

The first segment of the premiere, Best Day of Your Life, followed Neil Patrick Harris’ as he photobombed severalevents in an unknowing couple’s everyday life. From their trip to NYC, to the Alabama vs. Wisconsin game in Dallas, to their actual wedding– he documented himself behind the scenes, appearing occasionally to photobomb and laugh with the audience. It was creative, it was entertaining, and yes, it was funny.

The second segment, titled, Singalong Live, took three different contestants appearing via Skype, along with “I Will Survive” singer Gloria Gaynor. The object of the game, in a very “popcorn reading” fashion (elementary school throwback, anyone?), is to stay on beat and sing the right lyrics when it’s your turn. The winning contestant receives a cash prize. Reminiscent of the reality show Don’t Forget the Lyrics, the segment already felt a bit tired and forced. And Gaynor’s appearance, though timeless, felt a bit random. But hey, such is the nature of a variety show.

Neil Vs. pits our charismatic host against an array of competitors (whether it be his assistant Nicole Scherzinger, a mystery guest, a guest-starring celebrity, an audience member, etc.) to compete certain challenges. The night’s challenge? Neil and Reese Witherspoon take on a skyscraper obstacle course. It felt veryAmerican Ninja Warrior combined withWipeout and Fear Factor, and as much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t get invested in the segment.

Carson Daily made a cameo to introduce the segment Undercover, where Mr. Harris takes a trip to the set of the The Voice, undercover, of course, to give the celebrity hosts a day they’ll, in his words, “never forget.” Posing as an aspiring contestant, Harris sits down with, and later blind auditions for, Gwen, Pharrell, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton, essentially messing with them the entire time (fake thick accents and cheesy puns included). Though it would have been hilarious to be sitting in that The Voice audience when Harris revealed himself, the hilarity didn’t exactly translate on his own show. Honestly- the segment just made me fall in love with Blake Shelton and Pharrell a bit more.

Get Lucky brings the game show to the variety show. A randomly selected audience member is selected to play for 16 spectacular prizes. By answering questions about this week’s news, THE PLAYER unlocks different prizes by choosing random numbers (very Deal or No Deal-esque). Quick, interactive, and engaging.

The End of the Show Show brings out all the evening’s guests, some juggling bartenders, party music, a big brass band, and Little Neil (who is actually pretty darn adorable). Oh, and some pogo stick jumpers, naturally. Is it too much to ask to get this Tony Award winner to do some sort of belting, lights flashing, kick line finale?! Apparently so.

It’s hard to not like the show if you like Neil Patrick Harris, because the show is essentially everything Neil Patrick Harris is- it’s fun, quirky, charming, and creative. That being said, the show is so ambitious that it tries to fit everything it can into one short hour, making it feel a bit rushed. I would love to see the funnier segments last a bit longer, utilizing the celebrity guests a bit better with interviews, and some SNL style comedy sketches. While I wasn’t necessarily rolling on the floor laughing, I never got the (extreme) urge to flip the channel, either. Will I tune in next week? Probably- but to be completely honest it will most likely be in the form of a few-days-later DVR recording. Admittedly, Best Time Ever isn’t *exactly* that- it’s more of a plain ole’ regular tell-your-friends-about-it-later okay time.

But it’s okay, nonetheless.

Photo credit: Virginia Sherwood | NBC

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What I Did for Love

It’s been a while since I really sat down, though long and hard, and cranked out a blog post. And today… yeah I’m not doing that. But with my recent experience with Summer Stock Austin (including an *ahem* guest starring role in Guys and Dolls last week), I got extremely nostalgic for the high school theatre days. I also thought back to when I wrote my college admittance essay on the importance of keeping fine arts in schools- and decided to dig it up and give it a second life here.

Over 5 years, an entire college education, and a real-world job later, theatre has been and is still one of the biggest influences in my life. I still get giddy at the thought of seeing a new Broadway show (NYC-I’ll see you in October!), jam out to soundtracks I’ve played over and over again in the car, geek out whenever I’m around anyone remotely interested in theatre, and yes- had more fun than I could imagine running social media for and hanging out with Summer Stock Austin all month long. Enjoy peering into High School Wendi’s brain for a few minutes.

Recently, the Texas Association of School Boards proposed a Uniform Grade Point Average law for all Texas public high schools. Aside from the grade point average calculation, many have speculated that fine arts classes amongst high schools will soon not be required for graduation. As an active and zealous theatre arts student and performer, the fine arts classes for teenagers prove extremely beneficial and important to me. The need for required fine arts credits in the areas of music (i.e. band and orchestra) and performing arts (i.e. theatre and dance) proves necessary in befitting the next generation of businessmen, politicians, doctors, and educators.

 As a passionate and dedicated thespian, the importance of fine arts remains extremely close to my heart and immeasurably important. Theatre arts has constantly surrounded my life, from the frequent rehearsals after school almost everyday, to the exciting Broadway shows I constantly love to enjoy live on stage, none of which would exist for me if fine arts hasn’t existed in my high school. The presence of fine arts allows several students who otherwise would fail to emerge in extracurricular activates to become involved in school, make friends, gain a sense of school spirit, and grow as a person through the constant interaction with others, internal struggles and challenges, and a new and emerged high self confidence resulting from performances onstage. Personally, I have witnessed the impact a successful and welcoming thespian troupe has on many students. Theatre, as well as numerous other fine arts programs, welcome students unconditionally and allow involvement without the use of a grueling, stressful audition or tryout. In the majority of sports programs, a tryout decides whether or not a student may participate. However, within theatre, positions are available for all whether or not one merely becomes cast in the production. Many who fear performing in itself are welcomed as stagehands where they can constantly improve their craft alongside their friends and the aid of dedicated and intelligent sponsors who applaud all dedication. Additionally, students with a drive to perform onstage and grow as an actor, actress, or singer become exposed to countless plays, musicals, and performance opportunities where self-esteem, confidence, and communication skills are nurtured and encouraged to grow.

Void of the fine arts requirement, fine arts classes run the risk of losing funding and retention. Students who have an unknown love for performing may never realize their passion, and the next potential Tony, Grammy, or Academy Award Winner may fail to explore and develop their enthusiasm. In addition, students with shy or quiet personalities fail to emerge not as performers, but mere communicators. Through exercises and performances experienced within fine arts classes, countless students learn to communicate effectively with others, an extremely useful and practical tool for today’s society. Necessary to grow in career, as well as a student and person, communication skills develop within a person’s teen years, more specifically, high school, and the process becomes improved and quickened through the experience of a fine arts class where speaking, performing, and possessing a positive attitude in front of an audience becomes exceptionally important. The presence of a fine arts class encourages students to grow and become extremely comfortable with themselves and their personality and body, a factor that can even influence and decrease peer pressure, which fails when students possess confidence in themselves.

 Though the fine arts classes currently remain required, speculation of removing the program has been spoken about, and it must be stressed that fine arts classes remain extremely and immeasurable important to the students and generations to come. Theatre has impacted my life in ways I never thought possible, and is an art I will continue to treasure for the rest of my life. Depriving children the chance to know themselves better and share themselves onstage with the world remains unthinkable. School boards and students must fight for the existence of the extremely important and treasured fine arts program, perhaps the most imperative and essential program within any high school. There is more to life than facts and figures, there is also expression, and fine arts allow students to express themselves in invaluable ways.

So- High School Wendi, don’t worry… you did good.

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BWW Reviews: The Only Thing Better Than HAIRSPRAY… That’s Free!

Below is a review of Zilker Theatre Production’s performance of Hairspray at Zilker Park. Originally published on

If you’re looking for theatre during the summer, you aren’t exactly short of options in Austin, Texas. You may be, however, a bit short on cash. Enter the annual Zilker Summer Musical: a professionally produced, family friendly, fun filled musical, put on in the heart of Austin for free. Yes, you read that correctly- if you can get over the humidity, you’re in for a rare theatrical treat.

In its 57th season, Zilker Theatre Productions presentsHairspray, the 2002 Tony Award winner about young ingénue Tracy Turnblad (Samantha Bagdon) on a mission to integrate the local Corny Collins Show in 1960s Baltimore. Based on the 1988 John Waters film, Hairsprayhas toured the world, plaed London’s West End, and became a major motion picture since its close at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York City.

For those unfamiliar, the Zilker Theatre Summer Musical isn’t your average backyard play. With (what I can assume) thousands of dollars in sponsorships and donations going towards everything from the actors to the Broadway-caliber set, Hairspray in Zilker Park is literally the cheapest you will ever come to the Great White Way. It being done extremely well is just an added bonus.

Bagdon is a delightful, can’t help but laugh at (in the most loving way) her ingenuity Tracy Turnblad. Side-by-side with her loveably-dorky best friend Penny Pingelton (played by a perfectly-fit Kristin Hall), Tracy befriends Seaweed J. Stubbs (Vincent Hooper), successfully lands a spot on Corny Collins’ (Tyler Jones) daytime dance show, and attempts to integrate despite roadblocks by the show’s producer, Velma Von Tussle (Megan Richards Wright), and her entitled daughter, stereotypical popular girl Amber Von Tussle (Travis Gaudin)- who is datingCorny Collins Show star and Tracy Turnblad love interest Link Larkin (Travis Gaudin). Got all that?

Stealing the show, without a doubt, is the combination of Hooper and his onstage little sister, Little Inez (Helena Laing). Separately, they are no doubt two impressive triple threats, and together, their chemistry is even better. Laing’s vocals and Hooper’s charisma were two highlights of the entire event. The audience favorite came in the form of Motormouth Maybelle (Jacqui Cross) the mother of Seaweed and Inez who helps Tracy lead Baltimore to integration. Her rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been” literally stopped the show- for a near minute of applause.

A must mention duo, Scott Shipman and Craig McKerley, who played Edna and Wilbur Turnblad, respectively, didn’t go without their share of spotlight stealing, either. The always popular “You’re Timeless to Me,” was musical gold. The chemistry Shipman has with McKerley, Bagdon, and entire cast is unparalleled. He could probably do a successful scene with a brick wall- his humor and charisma carry him throughout the show.

The show’s weak points, few and far between as they were, fell in the acting. There were often times where, when the actors didn’t get the audience reaction they wanted, held a pause anyway, waiting for the laugh or applause or whatever they were expecting. Granted, at times it seemed more for comic effect, but it slowed the pace a bit and looked awkward to those unaware of what was supposed to be happening. The weak spots were easy to forget, however, with the overall high energy that carried throughout the show. Reminiscent of the original stay show, Karen Olson and David Ponton’s choreography was a familiar treat. My favorite production element, however, were the costumes. Carl Booker did an excellent job of turning the Zilker Hillside Theatre into the bright, vibrant, and fun world of the 1960s.

However, the cast, set, choreography, and costumes all come together with the perfect amount of theatre magic to make you forget you’re sitting in the grass, being eaten by bugs, in the middle of Texas summer. And yes, for this show, I’d do it again.

Hairspray runs at the Zilker Hillside Theatre Thursday- Sunday at 8:15 PM thru August 15. More information can be found here:

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10 Things We Learned at the 2015 Tony Awards

Originally written for and posted on Long Story Short, official blog of the Long Center.

Alright, you caught us… The Tony Awards are not technically an “art in Austin.” But, the theatre-lovers that we are, obviously that’s what we were doing last night from 7-10PM CST. And in case you weren’t (and even if you were), here are the ten most important things we learned from Broadway’s biggest night.

10. Who run the world? Girls.


Composers Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron took him the prize for Fun Home‘s music, lyrics, and book, Marianne Elliot won for her direction of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Catherine Zuber accepted for her costume designs in The King and I, and Bunny Christie won for her scenic design of Curious Incident. You go girl(s), indeed.

9. All the other states can just stop trying- we gave birth to the “Ten Time Tony Winning Tapping Texan” Tommy Tune.

8. It’s much better to be shuffled offstage by a line of dancing chorus boys than the classical music swell we hear at every other award’s show.


7. There is no better acceptance speech than a Tony acceptance speech.


“I just want to dedicate this to any young person who feels misunderstood and feels different,” – Alex Sharp (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime)

“I love what I do. And I don’t need this, but now that I have it, I’ve got some things to say. [To her parents] You don’t have to pretend it’s OK this time, thank you for giving me roots.” – Kelli O’ Hara (The King and I)

“Our show is about home… I’m fortunate to have a beautiful and supportive home thanks to [those] that instilled a love of art and passion for other people, that I wish everybody’s parents could give them.” – Michael Cerveris (Fun Home)

We’re not crying… you are.

6. Next year we want Iain‘s job.

5. Just when you think you’re a pretty accomplished human being, Sydney Lucas comes along and gives a showstopping performance… at 11-years-old.

4. Wig caps are hard, y’all.

476298480Kristin tried. We still love her.

3. 6th time’s a charm. And when you’re Kelli O’Hara and you win your first Tony on the sixth try, you’re more than allowed to do some sort of improv-shuffle off the stage of Radio City Music Hall (see gif #1).


2. Whoever made the Alan Cumming/ Kristin Chenoweth casting calls needs a raise. Whoever decided to end the show with Jersey Boys does not.


We love Jersey Boys, don’t get us wrong. But you have two insanely talented Tony winners right there! If NPH and Audra can rap, Kristin and Alan can give us a finale.

1. We’re extremely overdue for a trip to the Great White Way.


You can find the complete list of 2015 Tony Award winners here.

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BWW Reviews: Fantasies Come True! Avenue Q is BACK at Austin Theatre Project

Below is a review of Avenue Q at Ground Floor Theater, presented by Austin Theatre Project (February 15, 2015). Originally published on

I’ve seen three productions of Avenue Q in my life, all of them ranging from the Broadway national tour to a local community theater performance, to Sunday’s matinee performed by the Austin Theatre Project. Bottom line: Avenue Q smart, funny, and relatable show. It’s crude, sometimes a bit cringe-worthy, but simultaneously downright hilarious. Throw in an equally humorous and catchy soundtrack, and it’s no wonder the show won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Musical (beating Wicked, mind you).

Avenue Q follows Princeton (Isaac Arrieta)- a fresh-faced, right-out-college English major with a small bank balance but big dreams. Looking his purpose, he moves to the somewhat run-down but lovable Avenue Q, where he befriends superintendent Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman, played by Michelle Alexander), Christmas Eve (June Julian), an Asian American trying to make it as a therapist, her fiancé Brian (R. Michael Clinkscales), a wannabe comedian, love interest Kate Monster (Marett Hanes), a Kindergarten teaching assistant, Nicky (Eric Meo) and Rod (Matthew Charles Burnett), the Bert and Ernie equivalent of the block, and Trekkie Monster (Eric Meo), whose one and only hobby is…well…porn. Together, they learn that life can suck sometimes; everyone’s a little bit racist; and sometimes you just wish you could go back to college. Think of it as a raunchier, adult version of Sesame Street.

The challenge of performing Avenue Q is no easy feat. Despite the show’s intricate use of puppets, correct timing and delivery of humor, relatability of the characters needed to make the show a success, it’s a show that, surprisingly, is being more and more frequently performed. Austin Theatre Project has quickly jumped on that bandwagon; having originally performed the show back in 2013 to rave reviews and local Austin theatre awards. Reassembling the majority of the cast, adding a few new faces, and changing venues, the company remounted their award-winning production for a second run.

Despite ATP’s daunting, somewhat intimidating performance space (a theater nestled inside a legitimate warehouse off of Airport Blvd. and Springdale Road- allow time to get there, you’ll get lost), the production is an impressive one. With hardly a weak link in the company, the story is just as memorable, funny, and relatable as the version I saw on the Broadway stage. Specifically, Hanes’ Kate Monster shines. She plays the lovable, yet soft-spoken monster with the perfect amount of self-doubt, strength, and kindness- making her an audience favorite. Burnett’s Rod also stands out as the unintentionally hilarious, stuck-in-the-closet, uptight roommate Rod. Julian, while funny and memorable in her role, is clearly more of an opera singer, and the more casual, showtune style of the musical’s repertoire wasn’t a perfect fit her voice. Burnett and Laura Galt’s Bad Idea Bears, however, make the show. Their hilarity, chemistry with the other characters and with each other, in addition to their impeccable timing and- for lack of a better word- adorableness, really steal the spotlight.

The set, while a bit simple and somewhat lacking, gets the job done. The live orchestra (though unseen) did a phenomenal job, and the technical aspect (specifically, a television that sporadically played cartoon clips a la Sesame Street to teach lessons and add to the plot) went off without a (noticeable) hitch). The choreography, as well, added to the production and was very well thought out and executed- especially when considering the puppetry involved.

For any fan of Avenue Q, Broadway musicals, or just comedy in general, Austin Theatre Project’s production does not disappoint. ATP pulls of yet again a successful mounting of the Broadway favorite, with brilliant direction, a talented and energetic cast, a live orchestra, and an obvious love of theatre throughout clearly being the reason why. The term don’t judge a book by its cover comes to mind, because inside the somewhat dark, cold, and hard-to-locate warehouse off Airport Blvd. is a little gem of Broadway magic. The house music (composed of School House Rock, Sesame Street, and more) may drive you a bit insane, though.

Avenue Q plays at the Ground Floor Theater, 979 Springdale Road, Austin, TX 78702, and runs through March 8th. For tickets, visit

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BWW Reviews: Here I Go Again! MAMMA MIA! is Still Irresistible

In case you don’t follow the obnoxious, self-promoting tweets and Facebook posts I make regarding my moonlighting as a reviewer, it is, in fact, one of the many grown-up endeavors I have taken on (ahem…and also, a way to see great theater free of charge). My reviews can be found at, but I will also start posting them here!

Below is a review of Broadway Across Austin’s production of Mamma Mia! at Bass Concert Hall (January 21, 2015). Originally published on

“Mamma Mia- here I go again” weren’t just familiar song lyrics I was thinking of when I walked into Bass Concert Hall Tuesday night. No, it was also literal thinking going through my head. Why? The opening night of Broadway in Austin’s Mamma Mia! was my fifth time seeing the production. From seeing the first national tour back in 2002, to the dragging my dad to the production in Las Vegas, to seeing it twice more through Broadway Across America Houston before sitting in the audience at Bass, here I go again may have been the understatement of the evening.

A jukebox musical based on the songs of ABBA, Mamma Mia! tells the story of Donna Sheridan- a single, perhaps overworked mother living on an island in Greece with her soon-to-be-married 20 year old daughter, Sophie. Desperate to find out which one of three possible dads is her own, Sophie invites all three to her wedding (unbeknownst to her mother). What follow are 2 and a half hour of what can only be described as a party. Known and loved chart toppers, impressive and comical choreography, and endearing characters are the reason the musical, after literally dozens of international engagement, an impressive 15-year Broadway run, and a Hollywood motion picture, keeps drawing audience members (myself included) back.

While the more snobbish Broadway crowd may slam the musical for its lighthearted, admittedly obtuse storyline and its somewhat underdeveloped characters (Jersey Boys it is not, think Rock of Ages), I (an avid Broadway fan myself), can’t name one time out of my five that I haven’t laughed, sang along, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Understudy Rebecca Mason-Wygal successfully pulled off the stubborn, headstrong Donna Sheridan. While her notable vocals took a bit of the evening to fully make themselves memorable (numbers like Money Money Moneyand Super Trouper paled in comparison to her impressive rendition of the second act’s The Winner Takes it All), her relatable approach to the comical, yet often stand-offish character complimented the absolute joy that was Chelsea Williams’ Sophie. Williams easily made the audience fall in love with her (not that Thank You for the Music and Under Attack hurt her case), with my only major critique being her comedic timing. Mason-Wygal and Williams gave a lovable performance as the mother-daughter pair.

The dynamic between the three fathers, Mark Harmon (Harry Bright), Michael Colavolpe (Bill Austin), and Jeff Drushal (Sam Carmichael) was a thrill to watch onstage. Their effortless chemistry made for gratifying scenes (both dramatic and emotional) and even more delightful musical numbers, both between the three of them and with other members of the cast. Sarah Smith’s Rosie and Bailey Purvis’ Tanya, however, deserve their own standing ovation (which they did in fact receive). Both women’s impeccable comedic timing and fleshed out characters made them the hit of the evening. While I worried at first that Purvis may be a bit young to play the older, more matured Tanya (her credits include Elle in Legally Blonde and Skylar in Bring it On), she nailed it. As cliché as it may sound, Purvis and Smith made the audience have fun because they were having fun.

In one word, Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is fun. From hopping scuba divers, to retro 70s Dancing Queendisco, it doesn’t take itself too serious, but requires a lot of energy. The energy in Donna and the Dynamo’s Dancing Queen, however, an arguably pivotal number, unfortunately slacked. Whether it be energy or technique, the number didn’t exactly wow the way I’m used to- though the audience ate it up. In terms of Lay All Your Love on Me, Does Your Mother Know, and Voulez-Vous– the cast rocked it, and the party continued.

The bottom line? Mamma Mia! was and still is one of Broadway’s biggest parties (I may be stealing from Rock of Ages’ marketing team on that one, but it’s nonetheless true). Of course I’m going over it with a fine tooth comb; I’m a Broadway fanatic who has seen the show a total of 5 times now, I’m allowing myself to be a little picky. However, did I leave just as excited and satisfied as I have in the past? Absolutely. If you have the time, whether you’re seeing it for the first time now or are a tired fan, get to Bass Concert Hall this week and treat yourself (and if you’ve only seen the movie, please run to Bass and rectify that for the better).

Mamma Mia! plays Bass Concert Hall as part of Cadillac’s Broadway in Austin Series January 20-25. For tickets and information, visit

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Thankfully, INTO THE WOODS Leaves Little to be *Wished* For

Specific movie plot spoilers are marked, so if you already know the musical (or simply don’t care), it’s safe to read .

“I wish,” the (arguable) theme throughout Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical Into the Woods, was the one thing not muttered by the audience of the pre-screening I attended Monday night, December 8th. Why? The Tony-winning Broadway show turned Disney motion picture left little to be desired- much to my (pleasant) surprise. The Long Center, in partnership with Moroch Entertainment and Regal Cinemas, partnered up to host an exclusive pre (and when I say pre I mean pre…this screening was held the same night as the world premiere in New York. We saw the film the same night as the cast did) screening. And, like I said, as the credits rolled, I didn’t wish for much else.

Set against the backdrop of “once upon a time…” Into the Woods dares to tell us what happens to our favorite storybook characters after the alleged “happily ever after.” Narrated by the Baker (a slight change from the original stage show, but one that works given the format of film and the decision to not break the fourth wall), the musicals follows the lives of the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), who long for a child, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), who wishes to go to the ball (against the orders of her stepmother (Christine Baranski) and evil stepsisters (Lucy Punch and Tammy Blanchard)), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), on her way to Grandmother’s, and young Jack (Les Miz’s Daniel Huttlestone) and his mother (Tracy Ullman), scraping by on little to nothing as Jack sets out to sell his cow and best friend, Milky White. After reliving the fairy tales we know so well, Cinderella, Jack (as in the Beanstalk), the Witch (Meryl Streep), and Little Red Riding Hood are forced to team up and face their fears when a giant threatens to destroy their village. There, however, is where my plot spoilers end, simply because those who know and love the musical already know it, and those who don’t (I’m assuming) would like to be surprised.

With most movie musicals, especially for fans of the Broadway production, there are usually two prime concerns going into the theatre. These consist of a) How much of the story was changed? and b) Are the actors capable of playing the roles to their full potential Can they sing (Here’s looking at you, Russell Crowe)? Thankfully, with Into the Woods, I worried for nothing on both accounts.

The cast brings together several Hollywood A-listers who, thankfully, have both the name to carry the film and the talent to play their parts spectacularly. And then, to add to the dynamic company, Disney had the obvious yet brilliant idea to round out the cast with Broadway vets (Annie’s Lilla Crawford, Next to Normal’s MacKenzie Mauzy (Rapunzel), and Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike’s Billy Magnussen (Rapunzel’s Prince)), all of whom, as expected, were perfectly cast.

The biggest surprise of the evening was Emily Blunt’s Baker’s Wife. That girl has some extremely impressive pipes, and I’m shocked and a bit upset I’ve never heard her sing before. She took a leading role in her first movie musical and knocked it out of the part, and any die hard Into the Woods fan will tell you the same. Anna Kendrick, of course, was fantastic as always. She needs to make the move back to Broadway as soon as possible, or at the very least, have a lead role in every single movie musical from now until eternity. It was a breath of fresh air to see her subtle sass and spunk brought to the character of Cinderella, with a phenomenal voice to match.

Chris Pine (Cinderella’s Prince), the furthest thing from musical theatre you would ever imagine, played a humorous prince. His Agony duet with Magnussen by far brought the biggest laugh from the audience, relying on physical humor and entertaining choreography, and even garnering auditorium-full applause. The arguable throwaway in the stage show was transformed into one of the most entertaining numbers of the night.

Meryl Streep, whose less-than-decent vocals in Mamma Mia! gave me- and I’m sure others- a bit of apprehension, pulled off the Witch much better than expected. Whether better editing, singing lessons, or just general improvement, she performed “Stay With Me and “Last Midnight with ease and obvious talent. Her acting, of course, was on point (never a concern). Into the Woods fans? You have little to worry about over casting. I literally cannot find a weak link in this company. Perhaps when I see it again Christmas Day I’ll be down from my pre-screening high and can provide a more critical update (but hopefully not).

Given that this musical, known for its darker elements, was being produced by wholesome Disney, the plot gave me cause for concern as well. As early as June, fans were up in arms about “Any Moment” potentially being cut, and several characters living when, in reality, they meet their doom. Call it the crazy power of the internet, the anxiousness of die hard fans, whatever…(most of) the worrying was for naught. SPOILER ALERT! The wolf’s (Johnny Depp) “Hello, Little Girl, while not blatantly sexual, can certainly be conceived as so. The Baker’s Wife most definitely has an affair with Cinderella prince (well…it shows them kissing, but us musical fans are more than able to assume what else goes on when the camera pans away), and, immediately after, she dies (albeit from falling off a cliff and not from the Giant squishing her like a bug, but I’ll take what I can get). The one issue I had over and over during the second half of the film was that every single death was done extremely subtly. If I hadn’t had known Jack’s mother died onstage, her death resembled more of a ladylike faint. It took the Baker telling Jack is mother had died for it to really resonate. Same for the Baker’s Wife. One moment you see her let go of the tree she’s holding onto for dear life (you don’t see her fall, it cuts to next scene). Only once Jack tells the Baker he saw his wife at the bottom of a cliff does it sink it. I can only assume this is Disney putting their family-friendly spin on it. While I understand the importance of maintaining the Disney name, garnering a PG rating, and exposing the musical to as many people as possible, I feel as if even this minor change tarnished the story a bit. It, by no means, ruined the movie for me. At this point I’m looking for a critique, and this was definitely one of them. Rapunzel, whose entire storyline onstage revolves around her disobeying her mother and being killed because of it, does not happen. She, instead, happily rides off with her prince into the sunset, causing (for some reason) the Witch to sing an emotional Children Will Listen. The song clearly doesn’t weigh as much emotionally onscreen as onstage, for this very reason. At least 3 characters die in the movie, adding one more, whose entire character arc (and her mother’s) pretty much depends on her death would have satisfied fans, improved the film, and just made much more, obvious sense.

Cutting numbers is understandable to fit the run time of a film, and, given that the film did not break the fourth wall, it’s even more understandable. SPOILER ALERT However, the one change that really irked me was the cutting of the finale. While somewhat present, the song ends after the Witch’s reprise of Children Will Listen before cutting to the credits, at which point we hear the rest of the finale number as the credits roll. I think it would have been beneficial to the film, and satisfying to fans, to have the dead characters reappear (in true movie magic fashion, the way they perfectly created the final scene between the Baker and his Wife), or at the very least, have the remaining living characters sing it. It exists, true, and this may be more of a “pick your battles” criticism, but as the screen went dark after Children Will Listen I had the only agape (with confusion) mouth of the night. The move had some obvious holes, but I guess the slotted spoon does catch the potato (see what I did there?).

The energy in the theater was contagious. Call it excitement over being at an early pre-screening, or even just seeing the characters we know and love onscreen for the first time (trust me, the energy is just as present at Twilight and Hunger Games midnight premieres)…but it was definitely there. Applause after several musical numbers and consistent laughs, sighs, and gasps throughout made the movie an interactive experience, much like the stage show. However, I was also at a pre-screening, meaning it’s safe to assume the majority of audience members were original Broadway production fans or, at the very least, knowledgeable of the original musical. That being said, something tells me the reaction will be similar once I see it Christmas Day, and once not-so-die-hard musical theatre fans see it, appreciate it, and fall in love with musical theatre. I’m not one to (usually) rip movie musicals to shreds, even with its flaws, even Sound of Music Live! got people interested in musicals and live theatre. Thankfully, however, Disney took something magical and, with a star-studded (and talented) cast, a pretty true-to-book script, and beautiful cinematography and orchestrations, simply moved the magic from the Broadway house to the cinema auditorium. And it’s hard to wish for more than that.


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