Jesse McAnally and Andrew DeWolf host a weekly podcast where Jesse, a musical theatre expert, tries to help layman Andrew enjoy the world of musical theatre. The episodes are engaging to the listener as Jesse and Andrew give their opinion on the musical of the week with wit and heart, using types of cheese as a rating scale. While most people use a rating scale of 5 or 10, the podcast hosts use a cheese in relation to the musical. Some episodes include a guest who chooses the musical of the week, and the three have a discussion. Bonus episodes of the MusicalsW/Cheese podcast include interviews with people in the theatre business. I became a fan when the Twitter account for the podcast followed me @classicssonnets; I was instantly hooked. In this particular episode (# 50, released August 16th), I found myself laughing out loud. They discuss multiple stage productions of the Into the Woods musical and the film of the same name.
Musicals With Cheese opens with Jesse and Andrew telling the listener that this is the second time they recorded this episode because they did not feel they had enough enthusiasm worthy of the special occasion in the first recording. In honor of the 50th episode, the two wanted to cover a musical requested by fans — Into the Woods with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and script by James Lapine. Jesse shares information about the musical and well-known productions, giving the fans who are not familiar with the show a starting point. Jesse asks Andrew to describe what happens in chronological order. Andrew nails this task given the complicated storyline. Andrew says that Act 1 is what you would expect if you know the fairy tales, and that none of the fairytales interact. Jess says this reminds him of Falsettos because Act 1 is its own contained story and Act 2 is it’s on contained story. Into the Woods is all about the delivery, so the audience can lose the comedy elements of the piece based on the actor’s performance. The hosts move onto discussing the role of The Witch, both seem to agree that she is one of the greatest characters in the show. The Baker’s Wife is one of Jesse’s favorite characters in musical theater and she is one of mine as well. Jesse thinks the Baker’s wife is complicated and has some of the funniest lines in the show. Andrew states she is the most realistic characters in the show, and both of these are my reasons for considering her one of the greatest characters in musical theatre. The discussion turns to the symbolism of the woods in this story: adulthood and uncertainty — life’s journey/adventure out of childhood into the wide world. Perhaps undertones of sexual awakening.
The next topic, what Andrew thinks is the moral of the story: he and I agree that family is at the core of all the stories in this piece. Careful of what you say, children will listen; lessons of life. Sondheim’s “Children Will Listen” is a theme throughout the musical.
After the mid-show break, the hosts discuss the music of Into the Woods starting with the “Prologue.” As a fan of this musical, it needs the lengthy prologue to establish all the main characters and relationships in the piece. The next song they talk about is “Hello, Little Girl” and refer to Johnny Depp in the movie. The fan favorite number “Agony” and the reprise are next; Jesse and Andrew discuss the comedic moments of both songs. Andrew starts off by saying that there are two Gaston’s in this show and he finds that amazing. Andrew also thinks the reprise is funnier, and Jess says the reprise doesn’t work on it’s own. About the Witch’s big Act 1 number “Stay with Me,” Andrew says that he doesn’t have any strong opinions on the song while Jesse discusses different performances and how you need to see the scariness and the warmness of The Witch. The scene between the Baker’s Wife and Cinderella’s Prince including “Any Moment” and “Moments in the Woods” are discussed. Both hosts enjoy this scene and the musical numbers. Andrew thinks this entire scene is very good except for the end when the Baker’s Wife dies. Both hosts think these scnee are hilairous otherwise. Andrew says “Last Midnight” is one of the most dramatic numbers in the show.What makes it dramatic in Andrew’s opinion is that the number is so big. Jesse thinks this number is great and easily the most intense number. I agree and it is one of my favorite tunes in this piece because it is The Witch’s big dramatic farewell.
The movie is the last topic addressed, and all fans of the musical have their own opinions of the film. While the production is not perfect, I enjoy it and I think the movie has its merits. Andrew says the biggest failure of the movie is cutting Act 2 down. I have to agree because Act 2 is a crucial part to the story and very present in the stage musical. As a film, Andrew rates the movie 6 out of 10. Andrew feels the movie does very little better than the play so skip the film version, Jesse agrees.
Andrew thinks the musical as a whole is very, very good and that the listener should check it out if they have not already. Andrew’s cheese rating is Milky White Cheddar given the name of Jack’s cow; a fan can see the nod to the musical. Into the Woods is one of Jesse’s favorite musicals and he can watch it many times and still find something to love. Jesse picks Will o’ Wisp cheese from FairyTale Farms in Vermont.
I hope you enjoyed this editorial. If you are a fan of the podcast, what has been your favorite episode? If you have not already heard the podcast, I hope this gave some incentive to look up Musicals With Cheese and start listening. New episodes come out Fridays and you can follow them on Twitter here.
Photo by Craig T. Matthew and Greg Grudt/Matthew Imaging. The Cast of Into the Woods at the Hollywood Bowl.