Even if you've never seen "Into the Woods" before, you don't have to worry about not knowing any of the characters. If your parents read fairy tales to you as a child - or if you've done the same thing with your youngsters - then you're already familiar with them.

Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf with the ravenous appetite; Cinderella and her mean step-family; the childless Baker and his Wife; young Jack, his Mother and their dried up cow, Milky White - they're all part of our beloved childhood memories.Oh, composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim's version also has one Witch - a composite of the many who revel in stirring up trouble in those timeless tales. But leave it to Sondheim to emphasize the "grim" in the Grimms' fables.

He swirls the magical "happily ever after" endings into a rich stew of greed, lust, deceit . . . even adultery and bloodshed.

Guest director Charles Karchmer has plenty to work with here - an extremely talented cast, George Maxwell's storybook style (and Broadway-caliber) scenery, David Kay Mickelsen's colorful and whimsical costumes, Cynthia L. McCourt's hair and makeup designs, Jayne Luke's choreography, James Prigmore's orchestra, Karl E. Haas' lighting and James C. Swonger's sound.

Not merely a retelling of the familiar fairy tales, "Into the Woods" utilizes a fairly large ensemble as the stories become nearly as entangled as a beanstalk's root system.

The wry lyrics and intelligent dialogue require a well-honed cast, and that's exactly what Karchmer delivers, with a mix of local and guest professional artists.

Price Waldman and Julia K. Murney are perfectly cast as the Baker and his Wife, anxious to start a family and forced by the Witch (Dorothy Stanley) to take desperate measures. Other key players include Danny Gurwin as Jack, Lorraine Serabian as his Mother, Meghan Strange as Little Red Ridinghood, Christianne Tisdale as Cinderella, Darla Davis as her Stepmother, Robert Jensen as both the Wolf (who meets an early and somewhat gruesome demise) and Cinderella's skirt-chasing prince ("I was raised to be charming, not sincere"), Cheri Pratt as Rapunzel, Mearle Marsh as Rapunzel's Prince, Justin Ivie as the cowardly Steward, and Teresa Bramwell and Kelly McCann as Cinderella's two ugly stepsisters, Florinda and Lucinda.

Two major roles - the play's Narrator and a Mysterious Man - were played by Max Robinson.

Also on hand are Robert Peterson as Cinderella's father and Dorothy Briggs Arnold as both Cinderella's real mother and the voice of the Giant's upset widow.

There's not a weak link in the entire cast.

- PTC'S ANNUAL BRAVO! AWARDS were presented Wednesday evening to Florence Smith Jacobsen, whose love for theater has pioneer roots, and to the Questar Corp. (accepted by Don Cash, Questar's chairman, president and CEO).

- PARKING ALERT: Due to the U2 concert Saturday evening at Rice Stadium, parking on the U. of U. campus will be scarce. Even though PTC has reserved both the upper and lower parking lots adjacent to the theater for patrons attending either the matinee or evening performances of "Into the Woods," parking will still be at a premium, and traffic in the area is expected to be heavy throughout the evening. PTC management strongly suggests that patrons car pool and plan ahead to allow extra traveling time.

- Sensitivity rating: "Into the Woods" is much too dark to classify as a "family" show. But older children shouldn't be bothered by the show's darker aspects, and adults will enjoy the biting satire of Sondheim's delicious wit.