KAYSVILLE — Unless you are incredibly new to the Utah theatre scene (or theatre in general), you are likely aware of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods. The 1988 classic musical mashes up a myriad of fairy tales in the first act and then turns them on their head in the second, layered with lyrics and lessons for anyone ready to listen. At the Hopebox Theatre, hidden on the far south end of Kaysville, Utah, director Brighton Sloan has brought these tales to life yet again.
The Hopebox Theatre’s building was not designed for fantastic theatrical viewing. Because of this, I am always filled with a mix of anticipation and trepidation to see the set for a Hopebox show. The stage area is decidedly small and demands careful attention to details. Set designer Tanaya Ropp has truly outdone herself with her set for Into the Woods. The trees painted on the walls throughout the back of the stage that then take on a 3D effect to add bridges, entrances, and more added to the feel that the characters and the audience really were in the woods together.
The costumes for this production, designed by Lauri Baird, were truly something special. A fun plaid theme running through the costumes of some of the significant costume pieces was a visual motif that was unifying and even emotionally touching at times, such as the Baker’s Wife’s plaid scarf and plaid blanket for her baby. This plaid was a stark contrast to the rich elegance of the princes or the royal family, which felt intentional and important to the storyline. Embellishing the costumes were the wigs, designed by Jillian Joy, who also played the narrator in the production. When wigs are done well, they are gorgeous, but when they are not, they can look very fake, especially in a small space. Joy has created wigs that are amazingly professional, even when held up to the scrutiny of being right next to the stage. Of particular beauty is the wig of the stepmother, played by Becca Rhodes, who must have a splitting headache by the end of the show wearing such a contraption on her head.
With over 150 people auditioning for this production, Sloan had a deep casting pool to draw on, and it shows. There was no lack of talent on the stage for this performance, though certainly some stood out more than others. It is essential to have a strong Baker and Baker’s Wife to have a strong foundation for the morals hidden within. Andy Conlin as the Baker and Madeline Thatcher as the Baker’s Wife (respectively) were shining stars and perhaps the best performers of the evening. Their rendition of “It Takes Two” was charming and left me smiling, but it was a moment at the end, during the finale when there is a connection after tragedy, that their perfect harmonies intermixed with the emotion of loss brought a tear to my eye.
Dusti Bagley as Cinderella, Evelyn Powers as Little Red Ridinghood, and Josh Rogers as Jack also brought a lot to the production. Bagley performed the iconic “Steps of the Palace” well, and Powers excelled with “I Know Things Now.” I found Rogers charming with his “Giants in the Sky.” However, where they all brought their skills together under Sloan’s direction was during the song “Your Fault,” which I find, as a therapist, has always been an intriguing practice in deflecting the blame from themselves to others. The balance of anger, stress, sadness, and despair was an impressive look at ensemble work. The addition of Amber Ethington as the Witch transitioning to the song “Last Midnight” was flawless, and the song was her best of the evening.
Ethington was an interesting watch as the Witch. Overall, she was strong vocally, had an interesting ability to build her character arch, and showed her motives well. She did struggle, especially in the beginning, with some of the tricky lines that Sondheim is famous for. An unfortunate stumble during the Prologue would have been quite frustrating for a newcomer to the show because the audience relies on the Witch for some important exposition. I was pleased that there was significant improvement over the course of the show.
In contrast, Jillian Joy as the Narrator displayed an amazing amount of grace as an actress under pressure. There were several points in the show where there were technical elements, such as sound mishaps (common to community theatre) and even a fall due to a slippery floor. Joy handled each with a level of improv and character understanding that made her enchanting to watch.
While some critics argue that Into the Woods is produced too frequently, it is a show that I have loved because of the things I learn as I ponder it. As the full ensemble moved about the stage during the finale, saying the words “You can’t just act you have to listen. There are always wolves, there are always spells,” it is such a strong reminder that the “happily ever after” may be a myth. Yet, there is still a strength people gain through good storytelling. This is why people continue to tell stories over and over again, from professional theatre to community theatre, and why it is okay to repeat things over and over.