FARMINGTON — Growing up in Davis County, Utah, I like to think I know the whole theatre scene. I have also been to Farmington City productions in the past, but I confess that this is the first time I had been to the Woodland Park Amphitheater, which while I did get slightly lost trying to figure out where to park, turned out to be one of the most picturesque venues for the iconic Stephen Sondheim musical, Into the Woods, with a book by James Lapine.
To summarize the plot of Into the Woods is an exercise in futility, but if I were to teach a course in musical theatre, it would be required viewing. Debuting in San Diego in 1986 and on Broadway in 1987, it has since had a life all over in professional, semi professional, community, and school theatre across the globe. Combining numerous fairytales into a single story and timeline seems to be a recipe for chaos, but the magic of Sondheim’s lyrics and Lapine’s storytelling brought us one of the most magical and meaningful musicals, and whether you are seeing a community production or the star-studded revival currently on Broadway that I was lucky enough to see a few weeks ago, you will always find gems no matter the flaws.
Farmington’s production, directed by Sarah Johnson, really benefited by being set, well, in the woods. One of the best moments that showed the benefit was a moment I usually overlook, when Cinderella’s mother, played by Ashton Pittam in this cast, was surrounded by a real tree and smoke and it felt so much more natural than I had ever seen. This set made also quite a visual spectacle in one of the best numbers of the show, “No One is Alone,” with Jack, played by Theodore Housinger and the Baker, played by Daniel Pittman, and Little Red, played by Hana Rentz, and the Baker’s Wife, played by April Beardall, sitting nearby. Because the storyline has these characters alone in the woods, the setting was quite perfect and made the song even more touching than normal. Both Housinger as Jack and Rentz as Little Red were stand out performers. When Housinger sang, “Giants in the Sky,” I felt his energy and excitement run through my veins, and Rentz balances the level of innocence and strength needed to pull off the complex characterization of Little Red in this story.
As is the case with almost every community theatre production, sound was an issue. I commend Farmington City by keeping tickets at a price point that makes it extremely affordable for families to come to a production, and I understand that most community arts programs have little access to decent sound systems. As the night continued on and microphones struggled in and out, I wondered if it might be better to do away with microphones all together. The role of the witch, played by Melissa Burke-Termini, was certainly strong enough and loud enough that a microphone was not needed, and I had placed myself at the back of the audience because of a leg injury that causes me to need to stand on occasion.
Speaking of being in the audience, potential theatre goers should know that the venue has no preset seating, so bring a blanket or chair. I was also surprised a little to find that the setting was so, well, rustic that it was far away from any regular facilities so if a person is not comfortable with portable bathrooms, they should be aware. However, they did have concessions, delicious pastries and drinks and really friendly and helpful staff who were willing and able to help out. Having said previously, the setting was a lovely way to enjoy this story, but it is important to note that one would want seating and also mosquito repellent.
Other directorial choices by Johnson that were quite unique to this production were to have some preshow dancing with what I assume were local city dance troupes, which was entertaining. Then these dancers were actually incorporated into the show. One of my favorite choices was using the young dancers as the birds that talk with Cinderella, played by Natalie Peterson. One thing that makes community theatre different from professional theatre is allowing the opportunity for more to participate in the production, and this dancer choice was a fun way to let that happen. Another different choice was having two narrators, Scott and Jennier Ostermiller. While they both did a fine job, I am still on the fence regarding this choice.
Into the Woods is one of the best musicals to introduce people to musical theatre and has such great themes. Farmington City has done a wonderful job of making an accessible production that can accommodate any level of theatre goer and, even with the flaws, is a noble way to spend an evening.