Once upon a time, fairy tales occupied a special place in all our hearts. As children, we delighted in tales of magical beans, wicked witches and charming princes. But in “Into the Woods,” Sondheim — along with the wit and talent of the Yale Dramatic Association — twists our expectations of “happily ever after” into a musical that dispels previous notions of what a fairy tale should be.

Directed by Glynis Rigsby DRA ’01 and produced by Saskia Leggett ’09, “Into The Woods” combines the tales of well-known storybook characters such as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Jack (from beanstalk lore), whose disparate stories collide as each venture into the forest for their own purposes. The Baker and his wife, eager to conceive a child and dispel the curse placed upon their house by a neighboring witch, set off to obtain a white cow, a red cloak, a strand of golden hair and a golden slipper. As the story unfolds, the characters find each other, influencing one another’s destiny and actions. The first act ends happily ever after, and the audience is left at intermission wondering what more can be told.

The tiny seeds of adult undertones (i.e. murder, sex, responsibility) that are subtly planted in the first act grow to magnificent proportions in the second. That there is no such thing as “happily ever after” and that all actions have a consequence becomes all too clear. Through a modified refrain of the show’s opening number, each character reveals his or her discontent and wishes for more than their good fortune has allowed. The story evolves into a series of unfortunate deaths and betrayals, and the remaining characters are forced to pay the price for their foolish happiness.

Rigsby’s eye for casting contributes to a large, diverse body of actors whose performance styles compliment their roles. Mallory Baysek ’11 plays Little Red with such Shirley Temple-like innocence and sass that she could be a child actress hired specifically for the part. Similarly, Samuel Bolen ’10 as Jack, with his cow-licked mop of red hair and childish voice, lends a bumbling juvenility to the boy. Nick Barton ’08 dry sarcasm as the narrator brings an omniscient perspective to the production, and his ease and comfort within the role makes it appears as if he wrote the story himself. And with a voice that captures both the docility and sweetness of Cinderella, Danielle Frimer ’10 plays her part naturally and poignantly.

With so many characters competing for the spotlight, there are bound to be ones who outshine the others — particularly Felicia Ricci ’08 as The Witch and Miles Hutton Jacoby ’11 as both Wolf and Rapunzel’s prince. Ricci is great throughout, but her rendition of the “Last Midnight” truly showcases her vocal and theatrical talents. Jacoby’s carnal intensity during “Hello, Little Girl” is enough to frighten anyone, and he brings such arrogance and dashing charm to the prince that it is hard not to swoon. Jacoby’s duet with Matthew George ’11 stands out as one of the strongest vocal pieces, as each brother laments his misfortune in loving a beyond-reach damsel. Dan Amerman ’10 as Jack’s cow, Milky White, manages to bring anthropomorphic appeal to a bulky white sack on wheels, comically roaming offstage from the Baker and his wife at many points and serving as the object of Jack’s undying affection.

And while most of the cast’s vocals are strong and certainly impressive, sound is an issue throughout most of the play. Either some characters get too comfy with their microphones and forget to project, or faulty mechanics doom their lines to be muted by Sondheim’s much louder, slightly invasive instrumentals. Even to front row spectators, Sarah Minkus ’08 as the baker’s wife seems to waste her hard work and pithy delivery on lines that can’t be heard.

Well rehearsed and always on cue, the cast and crew keep the play moving along seamlessly from act to act. The actors deliver their lines without missing a beat, and Tara Streich-Tilles’ ’09 choreography contributes to an overall briskness that seems to shrink the play’s three-hour running time down to a more manageable length.

Wilson Chin’s DRA ’03 sparse, versatile set enhances the flow from scene to scene. The “woods” are cleverly represented by a grated, beam-like structure that casts intermittent shadows on those beneath it, while a soaring staircase serves as both Rapunzel’s tower and a tree.

Interestingly, in the show’s program, cast member Nicole Villeneuve ’09 reminisces about how as a child her parents played her only the first act, “expecting her to believe that everyone lives happily ever after.” But now that we’re all grown up, we should join Villeneuve and the rest of “Into the Woods” to see what fairy tales are really like.

Playing Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the University Theater, “Into The Woods” is the Dramat’s Fall Mainstage Production.