Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Wizard of Oz
Hale Centre Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of One Man, Two Guvnors and Puppet Wars: A Few Hope

Vinny Chavez, Jesse Thomas Foster, Geoffrey Goorin, Jessie Jo Pauley, and Teddy
Based on the timeless children's book series by L. Frank Baum, with memorable songs from the classic film that almost everyone knows by heart, the stage version of The Wizard of Oz is nothing short of a family friendly crowd pleaser. The moving story of a young girl's journey to find herself, set against the fairy tale, dreamlike world populated by a host of colorful characters, is one that children of any age can enjoy. With five productions of The Wizard of Oz playing across Phoenix this month, there is no shortage of theatrical Ozs to feast upon and, even with a few shortcomings, Hale Centre Theatre's production, that just opened, is bright, bold and colorful and grounded with a seamless performance from Jessie Jo Pauley as Dorothy.

The story follows Dorothy Gale, a young teenage girl who lives on a farm in Kansas 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 death. So, under the suggestion of Glinda, the good witch, Dorothy goes to Oz in hopes of asking the Wizard to help her get home. Along the way she meets a scarecrow, a man made of tin, and a timid lion, and 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.

Though there are a couple of missteps along the journey, in typical Hale fashion, they pull out all stops with this production. With imaginative costumes from Corrin Dietlein and Mary Atkinson and vibrant lighting from Jeff A. Davis, the Hale stage comes alive with pops of color and creativity. Director and choreographer Cambrian James has crafted some fun dances and most of his cast deliver winning performances without being carbon copies of the iconic film portrayals.

Jessie Jo Pauley is stunning as Dorothy. She exhibits a wide range of emotions with ease, from pensive to headstrong, passionate, fearful and optimistic. At just 16, Pauley not only brings the right combination of sweet sincerity and teenage angst to the role, but also has a warm, bright singing voice that, when combined with her dedicated portrayal, allows Dorothy's songs to have an emotional connection. It is a superb performance.

As the trio of friends that Dorothy meets, Jesse Thomas Foster, Vinny Chavez, and Geoffrey Goorin are all quite good as the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion, respectively. Goorin's hilarious mugging and comical abilities and Chavez' touching portrayal and sweet voice are especially rewarding. Foster is a bit less splashy in his portrayal. He could be a little less subdued and add more physical comedy to the part, including flopping around the stage more, as a man made of straw might do. However, he has a beautiful singing voice and instills the character with plenty of heart, exhibiting a nice friendship with Dorothy.

As Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch, Heidi-Liz Johnson is going for a slightly more comical and less evil take on both of the characters, portraying them basically as just two very mean people. While that might work in a children's production, in order to not really scare the younger theatregoers in the audience, it doesn't quite gel here or make for a memorable portrayal, especially since the Wicked Witch is supposed to be the catalyst for most of Dorothy's trajectory throughout the story. Johnson is fine with what she does, I just would have preferred a more seriously evil take that is more at counterpoint to the more comical characters in the show.

Alanna Kalbfleisch and Matthew Harris are very good as the two people who guide Dorothy on her journey. Kalbfleisch brings a sense of majestic refinement to the role of Glinda, the good witch, and Harris is charming as the somewhat conniving Professor Marvel and also instills a sincerity in the Wizard that results in his unique connection to Dorothy and her friends. In the ensemble, Jonathan Holdsworth relishes with glee the parts he plays and has a lovely singing voice, and Connor Wince provides a series of high flying acrobatic flips as Nikko, the leader of the Wicked Witch's flying monkeys. Toto is played by Teddy, a well-trained Havanese, and is such an audience favorite that at one point on opening night when he almost fell out of a basket by accident there were gasps throughout the audience.

James' direction is quite good. He also has come up with several varied dances, including a high energy "Jitterbug" number, as well as some fun synchronized movement for the crows who taunt the Scarecrow. James also has expertly staged the fast moving show with multiple scene changes that require a well-oiled stage crew to ensure the show never stops. Dietlein and Atkinson's costumes are excellent, with vibrant colors for the Munchkin designs, a pink cotton candy ensemble for Glinda, and costumes and wigs, by James, in all different shades and styles of green for the Oz residents. James also provides the make-up designs which are original and don't simply copy the character make-up from the film. The set design by Adam DeVaney, Brian Daily, Alex Fogle, and Monica Christiansen provides plenty of small set pieces as well as a quickly assembled Kansas house that revolves during the storm sequence. DeVaney also delivers some video and photo projection imagery to set the scene locations. While, overall, the creative aspects are quite good, the combination of all of the elements doesn't result in a tornado sequence that is very elaborate.

Also, while James' direction and the creative elements are mostly impressive, the decision to have an abridged ending to the show is a bit of a let-down, especially since—SPOILER ALERT—we never are told that the entire journey was a dream. We only see Dorothy return to Kansas but never see her wake up or be reconciled with the family and friends she left behind. While I realize this change means that none of the heavily costumed actors have to attempt to change back to their Kansas counterparts in what is a very short amount of time, it also somewhat minimizes the meaning of the story and Dorothy's realization that the people in Kansas are what really makes up her home.

However, with the exception of the abridged ending and a couple of performances, Hale's production of The Wizard of Oz is still very charming. With colorful creative elements, it beautifully brings one of the most loved movies ever made to the stage in a vivid production with a superb performance from Pauley as Dorothy and is another success from director/choreographer James.

The Hale Centre Theatre production of The Wizard of Oz runs through July 3rd, 2015 with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling (480) 497-1181

Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James
Music Director: Lincoln Wright
Set Designers: Adam DeVaney, Brian Daily, Alex Fogle & Monica Christiansen
Costume Director: Corrin Dietlein
Costume Designer: Mary Atkinson
Lighting Designer: Jeff A. Davis
Wigs & Make-Up: Cambrian James
Video Designer: Adam DeVaney
Stage Manager: Justin Peterson

Dorothy Gale: Jessie Jo Pauley
Toto: Teddy
Aunt Em / Glinda: Alanna Kalbfleisch
Uncle Henry / Mayor of Munchkinland / Emerald City Guard
Hunk / Scarecrow: Jesse Thomas Foster
Hickory / Tinman: Vinny Chavez
Zeke / Cowardly Lion: Geoffrey Goorin
Miss Gulch / The Wicked Witch: Heidi-Liz Johnson
Professor Marvel / Wizard of Oz: Matthew R. Harris
Munchkin / Poppy/ Ozian: Harley Barton
Munchkin / Poppy/ Ozian: Jacquelyn Brecker
Lullaby League / Poppy: Monica Domschot
Crow / Lullaby League / Poppy: Zib Jacobs
Lullaby League / Poppy: Skylar Ryan
Munchkin / Poppy/ Ozian: Kimberly Allyn Shepard
Crow / Lollipop Guild / Flying Monkey / Winkie: Nick Fernandez
Coroner / Winkie General / Tree: James D. Gish
Founding Father / Winkie: Ben Massouras
Barrister / Winkie/ Tree: Michael Schwenke
Lollipop Guild / WInkie: Nathan A. Taylor
Nikko / Crow / Lollipop Guild / Dance Captain Connor Wince

Photo: Nick Woodward- Shaw /Hale Centre Theatre

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix