Scribe James Lapine on Bringing ‘Into the Woods’ to the Big Screen

James Lapine Into the Woods Screenwriter
Terence Patrick for Variety

When Disney and director Rob Marshall needed a screenwriter for the movie-musical “Into the Woods,” they went straight to the source: James Lapine, the book writer of the Stephen Sondheim stage musical and the director of its 1987 Broadway bow as well as a 2002 revival.

Sondheim wrote a new song, but I didn’t hear it in the movie.

It was shot, but didn’t make the final cut. It was a song Meryl (Streep, who plays the Witch) sang, called “She’ll Be Back,” after Rapunzel leaves. It just stopped the action and diminished the impact of Meryl’s climactic number, “The Last Midnight.”

The movie has turned out to be pretty faithful to the stage version.

When we started I suggested to Rob, “Why don’t we throw out the opening and try a new number?” He said, “No way.”

How was it returning to the show almost 30 years after you first wrote it?

Emotional. In some ways, I related more to the Baker’s Father than to the Baker this time around, in terms of what you as a parent do, trying to fix your mistakes before you leave your kids with the consequences.

“Into the Woods” seems like your most popular work. Is it?

I would say yes. Fairy tales cross generational lines, and how you respond to them depends on when in your life you’re seeing them.

Were you OK with ceding directorial control to Rob?

Frankly, it was nice not being the director. Rob had a vision for some things, I had a vision for other things. It was a lot of fun spitballing with him.