Tamara Brown
The Wolf (Kyle Pfortmiller) and Little Red Riding Hood (Meredith Taylor) in Utah Festival Opera's "Into the Woods."
"INTO THE WOODS," Utah Festival Opera, Ellen Eccles Theatre, Logan, in repertory with "1776," "Manon Lescaut" and "Aida," through Aug. 9 (435-750-0300 or 800-262-0074)

I had one of the more moving theatrical moments I've had this year, and it happened at Utah Festival Opera's, "Into the Woods" — a look at classic fairy tale characters: the baker and his wife, Prince Charming, the Wicked Witch, to name a few — and their search for "happily ever after."

In Act II, we get a glimpse into what can happen after "happily ever after."

Composer Stephen Sondheim, a living Broadway legend, can be a bit polarizing, which makes sense. His scores are often dissonant and aren't ones that you'd likely hum on first listen. But when he decides it's time to write a soaring melody, he outshines most composers in his field.

Kyle Pfortmiller and Mark Womack play Cinderella's and Rapunzel's princes, respectively — and they're wonderful. Not only are both as handsome as the roles require, their voices are splendid. Completely mesmerized by "Agony," a funny song about the agony of not having what you want, I truly thought this piece alone was worth the drive to Logan and the cost of admission — beautifully sung, perfectly timed comedically and thoroughly enjoyable.

Then came Act II. W. Lee Daily, the baker, and Danielle Hermon Wood, the baker's wife, offered two of the most genuine performances I've seen. When finally blessed with a child (for which the quest has taken them through the woods and back many times), the baker's wife gets crushed by the giant (hey, I told you this was about after happily ever after). Faced with raising a child alone, the teary-eyed baker gets assurance from his wife, from beyond. "Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood ... You are not alone ..." The tender moment, performed and sung beautifully, had many (including me) wiping their eyes.

Caught up in such a moment, the witch's entrance was a touch jarring. Joy Hermalyn, whose performance was enjoyable otherwise, started into the lovely "Children Will Listen," with a little too much belt and brass at a time that called for more reflection.

Allison Leaheey as Cinderella is gorgeous, with a lovely, clear, warm voice. Jonathan Hoover and Meredith Taylor bring a youthful energy to their roles as Jack (of beanstalk fame) and Little Red Riding Hood.

Lyrical sets by Patrick Larsen worked very well with Chad Bonaker's ever-changing lighting. And, as always, the full Utah Festival Opera orchestra, with conductor Nathan Fifield, is a splendid way to hear Sondheim's score.

Thank you, Utah Festival Opera, for turning me into a fan of "Into the Woods." It's a show I've not liked in the past. But it's packed with relevance, wisdom, symbolism and quotable lines. Festival founder Michael Ballam, who chose to do the original version of the musical rather than the reworked version, made the right choice.


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