Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Into the Woods
Arizona State University Music Theatre and Opera
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of A Chorus Line and The Gazebo

The Cast
Photo by Reg Madison Photography
Stephen Sondheim passed away over a year ago and the musicals that feature his scores appear to be receiving even more productions than before. I'm not sure if that is to honor his passing or simply because so many of these musicals are exceptional. Three have received Broadway or Off-Broadway revivals since he died in November of 2021–Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, and Merrily We Roll Along–and here in Phoenix those same three shows have also been produced since his passing, with the first two having been presented at several theatres. The latest to receive a local production is the beloved Into the Woods, in which Sondheim's intricate score and the imaginative book by James Lapine come together beautifully in a winning production from ASU Music Theatre and Opera.

The plot focuses on familiar fairy tale characters, including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack from "Jack and the Beanstalk," and intertwines their stories with a new one that Lapine and Sondheim created about a childless Baker, his wife, and the witch who lives next door. The witch placed a curse on the Baker because his father stole from her garden but she tells the couple how they can reverse the curse by going into the woods to collect four items. As the story unfolds, the Baker and his wife, and the audience, quickly realize that those items are all related to the other characters and they all must work together to overcome the obstacles in their lives and have their dreams fulfilled. However, sometimes you have to be careful of what you wish.

Sondheim's score and Lapine's book are exceptional and they both received Tony Awards for their efforts. The book skillfully interweaves all of the characters into a cohesive story, with Sondheim's lyrics perfectly describing each character's inner feelings as well as many songs that advance the plot and depict the connections they have with each other. The themes in the show are ones that anyone of any age can relate to, and it's interesting seeing a show like Into the Woods multiple times over a period and realizing how it impacts you differently depending on how old you are. There is a wide range of characters, from parents and children to siblings, lovers and friends. The ones young theatregoers may connect with are the dreamy and childlike Jack or Little Red, while older audience members may be drawn more to the adult wishes and dreams of the Baker and his Wife, or even the Witch. The characters wishing for more in their lives is something almost anyone can relate to, which makes the show still entirely relevant 35 years after it first premiered on Broadway.

This cast, under Kate Leonard's sharp direction, deliver rich portrayals and navigate well through both the comedic and the dramatic requirements of the show. As Cinderella, Saylem duPont has a singing voice with perfect diction and clarity. Liam Boyd and Maggie Barry as the Baker and the Baker's Wife, respectively, make a winning duo. Barry's good comedic timing and perfect facial expressions work beautifully for her conflicted solo "Moments in the Wood" and Boyd brings a strong conviction to the Baker. As the Witch, Jazmin Noel Moehring has a wonderful stage presence and powerful singing voice that make the character an audience favorite; her delivery of "Last Midnight" at the performance I attended received an extended ovation from the audience.

With an exuberance that works well for the energetic Jack, Roosevelt Tre Moore is a knockout. This is his first year at ASU and I look forward to see what he'll do next. Jena Allen is appropriately sweet but also very sarcastic as Little Red. Josh Pike and Matt Griesgraber are wonderfully droll, with affected accents and gestures, as Cinderella's Prince and Rapunzel's Prince. Desmond Woodward does double work as the Narrator and the Mysterious Man and manages to make each character unique. Carlie Beckert is lovely as Jack's Mother, with a singing voice that is pure and strong. As Rapunzel, Bri Sieminski adds some nice humor and her singing voice is lovely. Aydan Bruce has fun as Cinderella's Stepmother, and Lauren Carroll and Gabrielle Gernon are a hoot as the Stepsisters. Alicia Werner, Matt Villar, and Shaul Leket-Mor round out the cast in featured parts, along with Ericca Rose and Charlie Green in cameo roles.

Leonard's direction is good, with fun use of the child-like playground set by Dane Burk that incorporates swings and a slide in the action. Brent Mauldin's music direction achieves lovely notes from the cast and large orchestra and Sara Bruton's choreography is simple but good. However, there are a couple of times when the choreography and the use of the swings and other playground elements distracts from the intricacy of Sondheim's lyrics; "It Takes Two" and "Agony" are two examples where having less action on the stage would be beneficial. Leonard does make great use of three planks that come out from the houses where the main characters live, over the orchestra pit and right up to the first row of seats, to incorporate some wonderful movement and give the sense of the characters moving through the woods and from one home to the next. William Kirkham's lighting is gorgeous and Maci Hosler's costumes are character specific, with the exception of the Baker who looks more like a lumberjack than a man who spends his time baking bread.

Into the Woods is an excellent musical and even with a few small quibbles, ASU Music Theatre and Opera's production is wonderful.

Into the Woods runs through April 23, 2023, at Arizona State University Music Theatre and Opera, with performances at the Evelyn Smith Music Theatre in the ASU School of Music, 50 E. Gammage Pkwy, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please visit

Director: Kate Leonard
Music Director and Conductor: Brent Mauldin
Associate Conductor: Andrew Chen
Choreographer: Sara Bruton
Assistant Director: Wesley Bradstreet
Scenic Designer: Dane Burk
Lighting Designer: William Kirkham
Costume Designer: Maci Hosler
Hair and Makeup: Sharon Jones
Props Designer: Kate Leonard and Wesley Bradstreet
Stage Manager: Max Plata
Rehearsal Pianist: Lindsay Noel Miller
Assistant Stage Manager: Jess Overtoom

Cinderella: Saylem duPont
Baker: Liam Boyd
Baker's Wife: Maggie Barry
Little Red: Jena Allen
Jack: Roosevelt Tre Moore
Jack's Mother: Carlie Beckert
Witch: Jazmin Noel Moehring
Rapunzel: Bri Sieminski
Mysterious Man/Narrator: Desmond Woodward
Cinderella's Prince/Wolf: Josh Pike
Rapunzel's Prince: Matt Griesgraber
Cinderella's Mother/Granny: Alicia Werner
Cinderella's Stepmother: Aydan Bruce
Florinda: Lauren Carroll
Lucinda: Gabrielle Gernon
Cinderella's Father: Shaul Leket-Mor
Snow White: Ericca Rose
Sleeping Beauty: Charlie Green
Steward: Matt Villar