WEST VALLEY CITY — Into the Woods has become an iconic musical that has settled nicely into the canon of American musical theatre. The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales, exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. The main characters are taken from Little Red Riding hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella, as well as several others. How the stories and characters intertwine in the story is truly ingenious. but then it is a Stephen Sondheim musical, so, of course, it is ingenious. And the production of Into the Woods at West Valley Arts is simply great, bringing together a very talented cadre of creatives and actors.

Show closes May 6, 2023.

The show starts, as any great fairy tale must, with a Narrator saying, “Once upon a time…” The plot catapults from there with a litany of wishes: The Baker and his wife, who wish to have a child; Cinderella, who wishes to attend the King’s Festival; and Jack, who wishes his cow would give milk. When the Baker and his wife learn that they cannot have a child because of a Witch’s curse —because every great fairy tale has to have a Witch — the two set off on a journey “into the woods” to break the curse.

By the end of Act I, everyone’s wish is granted, but the consequences of their actions return to haunt them in act II, with disastrous results. And isn’t that how life is sometimes? As every mother says, “Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.”

Into the Woods is not only entertaining, it is profound, examining, the virtues of humanity as well as its flaws. By today’s standards, it is also long, clocking in at about three hours in the West Valley Arts production. Yet, the production’s pacing is brisk, so even though it is long, it never lags. Directed by John Sweeney is no stranger to this theatre and to Utah audiences. (He has probably directed nearly every big-name show ever written — and directed them well.) Sweeney understands the meaning, theme, and especially, the complexity of James Lapine’s book, and Sondheim’s score and lyrics. None of this is an easy task. Moreover, directing any show in the round is a challenge, but Sweeney is an old hand at it, which makes watching Into the Woods a joy.

Annie Ferrin as the Baker’s Wife and Jared Lesa as the Baker.

The production’s music director is Anne Puzey, one of the finest musical directors in Utah. Puzey’s focus on precision is distinctive, and that focus is especially needed in a Sondheim show because his lyrics are sparkling, intricate, masterful, and emotionally moving. One great lyric the Witch sings illustrates this: “It’s your father’s fault that the curse got placed and the place got cursed in the first place.” Amazing! Or one of my favorite lyrics, “We’ve no time to sit and dither, while her withers wither with her . . .” Puzey makes sure the audience never loses a lyric, which would be “Agony!” Also, Marilyn Montgomery’s choreography is excellent, seamlessly weaving in and through the staging, adding depth and characterization to the show.

Then there’s the cast, and what an impressive cast it is. Dianna Graham as the Witch is wickedly amazing. With an imposing set of pipes that match well with Sondheim’s intricate score, Graham shines as both the withered hag and the glamorous, yet ruthless, sorceress who has lost her powers. Annie Ferrin is exceptional as the the Baker’s Wife. The role can teeter on the precipice of being shrewish, but Ferrin never crosses the line. Her voice is robust and powerful, meshing perfectly with the score.

Sibley Snowden as Little Red Ridinghood was terrific. It is a fun role, and Snowden delivered a performance that was satisfying and delightful. Additionally, Dan Radford was creative, emotive, and delightful to watch as . . . the puppeteer behind Milky White, Jack’s cow. The rest of the cast (led by Jared Lesa as the Baker) were consistent in the quality of their singing (though occasionally a singer had to reach for a note) and the excellence of their performances.

Red Cottam as Jack and Sibley Snowden as Little Red Ridinghood.

The roughest aspect of opening night was the ragged technical elements, including microphones not turning on at the proper times, errant spotlights, and other problems. Hopefully, the tech crew will settle into the routine of the show soon. Additionally, the costumes by Alicia Kondrick were eclectic but uneven.  Mixing up time periods can be effective, and some costumes worked well. But some were just confusing.  There has to be a consistency to a mixed-up concept.

But all in all, Into the Woods at West Valley Arts a fine show. So, please drive to the Harman Theatre in to go . . .

Into the woods you go again,

You have to every now and then.

Into the woods, no telling when,

Be ready for the journey.

This show is well worth it.

Into the Woods plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Saturdays at 3 PM through May 6 at the West Valley Performing Arts Center (3333 South Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City). Tickets are $18-25. For more information, visit https://www.wvcarts.org/.

These reviews are made possible by a grant from the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks program.