OGDEN — In 1987 a new musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine premiered on Broadway that was a crazy compilation of several fairytales and their intersecting pathways of how they could all go together and go wrong. With the magic genius of Sondheim’s music and lyrics, what should not work together did, and for decades the story and morals that are found within Into the Woods have impressed, inspiring a filming of the original Broadway cast, a movie, and numerous productions. It is a show that I can recite and have seen more times than I can count, so I was excited to see how director Maddie Tarbox would bring the beloved tales to life.
Having seen both the magnificent and the horrific done with this work, I walked into Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden not knowing what to expect. My interest was peaked when reading in the director’s note that she would be following the format that she had seen previously in New York with the narrator as a child. Played by Mitchell Morgan the day I saw the production, this choice was rather amazing in so many ways, part of which I will articulate and part of which left me so dumbfounded with its beauty and majesty, especially at the end of the show, that I would rather that future audiences be surprised with it as I was.
What I will say is that it is impressive that a production team and cast can take a work that is over 30 years old, so well known that I can recite the lines and lyrics in my head before they come, and can still shock and awe me by the events happening on stage that I can walk out feeling like I have witnessed the story for the first time. Part of that beauty came from the performance of Morgan, and the other part came from the performance of Nick Morris as the Baker. His performance was so solid throughout the entire production, and there were a few final moments where the entire ensemble pulled the concept of the production so beautifully that I cried in the theatre and again when I reached my car.
Technically, the show had some different choices that allowed for more of a childlike imagination of the set, with artistic lighting design by David Rees. One of the moments where this different choice was apparent was in the song, “Hello, Little Girl,” where the wolf, played quite masterfully by Nicholas Balaich, has his moments of evil interlaced between the manipulative charm he places on Little Red Riding Hood, played by Tyler Bender. These changes in music and character were timed with really good changes in lighting that added a level to the song that I have not seen in previous productions. Additionally, several of the songs with the Witch, played by Demi Jorgensen, had the same level of color, change, and flair that added sophisticated technical aesthetic.
Taylor Garlick as Jack had a glowing moment with the song, “Giants in the Sky.” His golden voice matched the storyline of gold that he found in the world he discovered in the sky. This moment is another moment where narrator Morgan also added a great deal to the show because of his interaction with the character and stories, as if he were actually there building the story in his mind and the characters were building connections and characterization with him. I felt as though I were watching Morgan build a beautiful musical painting throughout the evening, even though that musical is a different Sondheim show.
Costuming by Alicia Kondrick was perhaps the lowest point of the show, though it was still quite well done. Some of the costumes felt a little more out of place than others. While Cinderella, played by Allie White, the Baker’s Wife, played by Katelynn Ostler, and many other characters had perfect costumes, the Stepmother’s costume (played by Heidi Hunt) and Red’s costume seemed slightly out of place with the rest of the vision.
Musically, the show was divine. Music director Kenneth Plain had found a way to take all the wordy phrases, difficult movements, and complicated harmonies and utilize the talents of the cast to create a production unlike any production of Into the Woods I have ever seen.
I highly encourage anyone who can to go see Ogden Musical Theatre’s production of Into the Woods. The concept that they have followed has allowed for a beautiful and touching take on a classic that still has me with tears in my eyes while I write. It truly showed the idea that children are watching and listening to the stories that are told and are being told. “Careful the things you say, children will listen.”