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PRIME CUTS: Out of “Into the Woods”

November 1st, 2011

"Into the Woods". Photo by Martha Swope.

We continue our look at songs cut from Broadway musicals with a truly fascinating window into the work of Stephen Sondheim.

If you’ve had a chance to read Sondheim’s wonderful collection of lyrics Finishing the Hat, you know that he’s a meticulous craftsman, carefully honing each lyric on scribbled legal pads–but as many times as you read about his methods, it’s a whole different thing to hear his songs “in process”. Listen to the following rough recording (not sure if it’s a demo or a rehearsal version) of a song fromĀ Into the Woods called “Second Midnight” which was cut after the dress rehearsal of the original Broadway production:

What is amazing to me is how parts of this cut song turned up elsewhere (according to an interview with director/librettist James Lapine, “Second Midnight” was the foundation for what became “Children Will Listen” and you can still hear some of the lyrics in alternate versions of that song, most famously Barbra Streisand’s recording.) While whole sections and thoughts are gone from the final show (many of the little morals and the “I don’t understand” material), simple phrases or whole stanzas survived and got moved around. Often we think about people throwing out songs and writing new ones, but here we see that it is more complex than that. Sondheim “rescues” ideas and finds better ways to use them in a collage of whittling and rearranging.

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