“Into the Woods” is everywhere these days — and not just at a movie theater near you.
With the Disney film version of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1986 musical now in marketing overdrive for its Christmas release, you can catch stage productions of the show at the Wallis in L.A. (through this weekend), at the Roundabout Theater Company in New York (through March 22) and, this summer, at the Muny in St. Louis. Considering “Into the Woods” is an enduring favorite of theater fans, these productions don’t owe their existence solely to the film’s release — but theater programmers were almost certainly keeping one eye on the movie as season schedules fell into place.
“The movie definitely played a part in the timing,” said MUNY artistic director Mike Isaacson. “‘Into the Woods’ was on my list to do; it was just a matter of when.”
The thinking goes that a movie adaptation will spur audience interest in the stage original thanks to the blanket exposure that a movie — and its attendant national marketing push — can bring to a property. That marks a change from the conventional wisdom of the past, which held that a film would cannibalize business that would otherwise go to the stage production.
The death of the original production of “Annie,” six months after the 1983 movie adaptation came out, was one oft-cited example.
But the theater industry’s new take on the benefits of a movie follows the revitalization of the Broadway box office for “Chicago,” “Rent” and “The Phantom of the Opera” in the wake of movie versions — even when some of those film adaptations weren’t particularly well received.
A promo for the movie does double duty as an ad for the show, and with movie studios spending significantly more on marketing than the theater industry spends on an entire production, film advertising reaches potential audience members on a scale no Broadway producer could ever hope to.
“It certainly helped to have people writing about the movie and its relationship to the stage show,” said Patricia Wolff, the interim artistic director at L.A.’s Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of “Into the Woods” runs through Dec. 21. “We’re basically sold out.”
Concurrent with the movie’s release, the Off Broadway run of “Into the Woods” is a Roundabout presentation of the Fiasco Theater production that Roundabout a.d. Todd Haimes caught at New Jersey’s McCarter Theater last year. The show’s timeline during the Roundabout season, he said, was dictated by the fact that other titles — including Tom Stoppard’s “Indian Ink” — had already booked slots at the company’s Laura Pels Theater.
Disney didn’t put a hold on the stage rights of “Into the Woods” for the window of the movie’s release, but Haimes checked in with Sondheim and Lapine — both enthusiastic supporters of Fiasco’s scaled-back production — to get the OK for a concurrent New York run.
“For us the timing is a wild coincidence, but the movie and all its publicity has got to be helpful,” said Haimes. “Advance sales are fantastic.”