The second half of Into the Woods is, in some ways, a messy affair. As the curtain rises we’re given expository dialogue that feels a little clunky. The rollicking pace of the first act becomes a bit of a grind as new plot elements are introduced and the characters confront the questions Sondheim and Lapine want us to consider: Do we really want what we wish for? And what if we get it?
But I’m not complaining. Whatever momentary clunkiness we endure is well, well worth. The payoff: songs so beautiful that their sentiments alone can make me a little weepy…
Mother cannot guide you
Now you’re on your own
Only me beside you
Still, you’re not alone
No one is alone, truly
No one is alone
And when sung by a Cinderella with a soaring voice, the result is deeply moving.
Earlier in the play, Cinderella is alternately comic and sad. But here, at the end, her songs — her voice — bring us to the play’s touching, hopeful conclusion. Note the gorgeous violin at 3:16 over the lyrics…
Hard to see the light now
Just don’t let it go
Things will come out right now
We can make it so
Someone is on your side
You are note alone
Only a great singer can make Cinderella the role it was intended to be. A mediocre actress with a great voice could make it work, but the converse would be a real problem.
This brings us to the subject of this post: Anna Kendrick. She’s a terrific actress who brings charm and presence and intelligence to every role she takes. She was fantastic in Up in the Air and 50/50. I look forward to seeing her in movies for years. But to consider her fitness for the role of Cinderella, we need to examine what we know of her vocal abilities.
Kendrick’s voice lacks depth, and her ability to nail notes that complete a harmony is fleeting. She tries hard, she clearly loves to sing, but she lacks the training and background that would make the most of the role.
But Kendrick is not lacking in talent, and her voice is a long, long way from terrible. There are moments in her Kennedy Center performance that were quite good.
So there’s reason for hope. From what I’ve seen, she’d have a tough time pulling off the Cinderella role in a Broadway setting, where tonal accuracy and depth are required for hours at time, eight shows a week. But for a movie, she and the producers/directors may be able to pull it off. If they spend enough time in the recording studio, they should be able to cull together versions of the key songs that do justice to the part and the play.
If they manage this, the rest of Kendrick’s talents — her onscreen likability, her beauty, her comic timing — could make this a signature performance for Kendrick. Given her massive popularity ( she has more than 4 Million Twitter followers), a good performance here could bring Sondheim’s work to an entirely new and very young audience. And that would be a great thing.