Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The Wizard of Oz
For those unfamiliar with the film or L. Frank Baum's series of books that the movie is based on, the plot follows the misunderstood teenager Dorothy Gale, who lives on a farm in Kansas and dreams of finding a place where she can finally belong. When a tornado comes along and whisks Dorothy, her dog Toto, and her house over the rainbow to the colorful land of Oz, she finds it to be a very interesting place filled with many friendly creatures, but some frightening ones as well. Dorothy makes friends with a scarecrow, a man made of tin, and a talking lion, but she also encounters two witches (one who is lovely and sweet while the other is ugly and horrible) and a wizard who is wonderful and nice. But even with all of these friendly creatures, all of whom resemble someone Dorothy knows from Kansas, she finds that she really wishes she could just go back home.
There have been a few stage adaptations of Baum's "Oz" books (including a 2011 one that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote some songs for); ABT is presenting the 1987 Royal Shakespeare Company version which sticks close to the film screenplay and features all of the well-known songs from the movie. The score, written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, includes "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" and the Oscar-winning "Over the Rainbow," and while the adaptation by John Kane features many of the well-known scenes and memorable lines from the film, it also includes a few added comic moments.
Director Ken Urso keeps the brisk pace and his cast does a fairly good job in paying homage to these familiar characters from the movie while also adding some nuance, so they aren't just copies of the well-known film actors' portrayals. Jasmine Bassham is radiant as the misunderstood Dorothy. Her warm and powerful vocals excel on the film's best-known song, "Over the Rainbow," and her smart acting choices and varied line delivery create an identifiable and endearing portrayal of this innocent and vulnerable character.
Alex Pineiro, Skylar Gamble, and Alden Caple are all fun as the three men Dorothy meets and becomes friends with on her journey. Caple is a crowd pleaser as the hilarious Cowardly Lion. As the Scarecrow, Pineiro is sweet and charming, and Gamble's clear and warm singing voice shines as the Tin Man. As the Wicked Witch, Renée Kathleen Koher has a fantastic cackle reminiscent of the one Margaret Hamilton used in the film, a good level of menace, without being overly scary, and a serious line delivery that is a nice change from the many comical characters around her. Jamie Michael Parnell shines as both the Wizard and Professor Marvel; the concern he shows for Dorothy in the final scene may just bring a tear to your eye. As Glinda, the good witch, Brooke Melton has a beautiful and clear singing voice and she also has a firm yet caring disposition as Aunt Em. Darren Scott Friedman is very good as Dorothy's over-worked uncle and Oz's doorman. The ensemble does well playing a range of characters, and around a dozen youth performers help flesh out the Munchkinland scenes.
Jaron K. Hermansen's projection and video designs deliver some very impressive backgrounds for the show on the 30-foot-wide LED screen, including many that have moving imagery which allows the tornado and the Witch's flying monkeys to move across the back area of the large ABT stage. However, while a few of the designs are stagnant or slightly cartoony, the ones for Oz are rich, vibrant and very realistic, with images that evoke a three-dimensional effect. Douglas Clarke's set design uses large arched pieces that frame the stage and are reminiscent of both the swirling tornado that whisks Dorothy away on her journey and the yellow brick road she and her friends take to Oz. The arch design is also present on the stage floor. These elements provide a nice whimsical touch to the production as do the other set pieces used to quickly depict various locales in the show. Jim Hunter's lighting uses those arched set pieces to provide a canvas to constantly shift and change the color palette in the show to portray the sepia toned Kansas scenes, the green hued Oz segments, and the deep and rich purple ones in the Witch's castle. The costumes are rentals from Music Theatre Wichita and, while they do a nice job of creating the two separate worlds in the show, with the Kansas characters devoid of color and the Oz costumes rich and bright in a range of colors, a few of the costumes are bland, especially the one for the Scarecrow.
Choreographer Elizabeth Worley provides several fun moments. Jesse Worley's sound design features some great effects along with clear vocals, and Adam Berger's music direction delivers rich sounds from both the cast and the great 10-piece orchestra.
ABT's production of The Wizard of Oz gives fans of the film a chance to hear the beloved songs and experience the familiar, well-loved moments from the movie. With a fun cast and rich creative elements, this is a perfect musical outing for families and fans of the film.
The Wizard of Oz runs through July 23, 2023, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.azbroadway.org or call 623-776-8400.
Direction: Ken Urso
Cast: (in order of appearance)