Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of unexpected
Based on the timeless children's book series by L. Frank Baum and with memorable songs from the 1939 MGM film, The Wizard of Oz follows Dorothy Gale, a young teenage girl who lives on a Kansas farm yet dreams of finding a place over the rainbow where she can belong. A tornado comes along and whisks Dorothy, her dog Toto, and her house to the colorful land of Oz. Unfortunately, Dorothy's house lands on a wicked witch and the dead witch's sister vows vengeance for her sister's death. Under the suggestion of Glinda, a good witch, Dorothy goes to Oz in hopes to ask the Wizard to help her get home. Along the way she meets a scarecrow, a man made of tin, and a talking lion. Together, they overcome many obstacles and discover what true friendship means. And, while Dorothy has many fun adventures, she realizes that there really is no place like home.
VYT's production pulls out all of the stops, with large set pieces, colorful and imaginative costumes and a cast who deliver superb performances of these iconic characters. Under Bobb Cooper's skilled direction, his teenage leads all achieve excellent performances that hint at but never truly mimic their famous film counterpoints.
Kendra Richards delivers a perfect portrayal of Dorothy. From pensive and unsure to headstrong and optimistic, Richards hits all the right wide-ranging emotional notes that Dorothy experiences on her journey to Oz. Her sweet singing voice provides a soaring version of the iconic "Over the Rainbow." As the three men Dorothy meets on the road to meet the Wizard, Jared Barbee, Asher Sheppard, and Steven Enriquez all deliver excellent performances. With flailing arms and rubbery legs, Barbee comically flops around the stage as the Scarecrow, which is exactly how a man made of straw would move, yet he also has an abundance of sweetness and caring for his new friend that makes him perfectly human. Sheppard instills an amazing abundance of heart and humanity into his sweet and charming Tin Man which makes for one of the best portrayals of this character I've seen, and Enriquez, with his refined comic mugging and superb stage presence, is a knock-out as the Lion. Even more impressive is that they deliver such excellent performances while mostly hidden under heavy make-up and costumes.
Alexis Harris has the right balance of menace and evil as the Wicked Witch of the West, yet includes just a hint of humor to not be too scary for any small children in the audience. As Glinda, Tiana Marks is regal and effervescent with a beautiful singing voice while Ethan Maxwell is both conniving and charming as the mysterious Wizard.
Musical director Mark Fearey achieves a lovely sound from the large cast and orchestra. While the show features a slightly abridged ending that doesn't quite take us all the way back to Dorothy's Kansas bedroom, which is my only quibble, Cooper does add in a simply stunning version of "Over the Rainbow" sung by all of Dorothy's Kansas farm friends that is a showstopper in both its simplicity and its ability to be incredibly moving and filled with emotion. While the sets are rentals, and excellent ones, Karol Cooper's non-stop, jaw-dropping parade of imaginative, colorful and creative costumes are very impressive. Todd Muller's lighting design creates some lovely images and images, including a fun tornado effect. Cooper has also enlisted ZFX, Inc. to fly numerous members of his cast high above the Herberger stage. Choreographer Nathalie Velasquez provides some fun and fancy steps that are well danced by the cast.
With a highly talented cast and bright and colorful creative elements that help effectively create the fairy-tale, dreamlike world of Oz and the many colorful characters who live there, VYT's The Wizard of Oz is incredibly entertaining and a delicious treat for children of all ages.
The Valley Youth Theatre production of The Wizard of Oz runs through June 25th, 2017, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased by calling 602-252-8497 or at www.vyt.com.
Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg