Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Wizard of Oz
Valley Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of unexpected

Kendra Richards, Jared Barbee, Asher Sheppard,
and Steven Enriquez

Photo by Cliff Cesar
The Wizard of Oz is the classic, moving tale of a young girl's journey to find herself and it also proves to be a perfect theatrical endeavor for a youth theatre company. With a great cast and excellent creative elements, Valley Youth Theatre's sumptuous production results in a family-friendly crowd-pleasing hit.

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

Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg
Background Music by Herbert Stothart
Adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company
based upon the L. Frank Baum novels and MGM film
Director: Bobb Cooper
Musical Director: Mark Fearey
Choreographer: Nathalie Velasquez
Costume Designer: Karol Cooper
Lighting Designer: Todd Muller
Sound Designer: Gary Gillespie
Flying Effects provided by ZFX Inc.

Dorothy: Kendra Richards
Scarecrow: Jared Barbee
Lion: Steven Enriquez
Tin Man: Asher Sheppard
Glinda: Tiana Marks
Wicked Witch: Alexis Harris
Wizard: Ethan Maxwell
Munchkin: Elie Anthony
Munchkin, Lullaby: Bali Bare
Munchkin: Kate Brink
Gatekeeper, Winkie: Sam Brown
Ozian, Winkie: Jake Bonar
Flying Monkey: Reese Cantu
Munchkin, Barrister: Kylan Chait
Ozian, Winkie, Farmhand, Crow: Ethan Collins
Ozian, Tree, Farm hand, jitterbug, poppy: Isabella Conner
Munchkin: Gwendolyn Craw
Munchkin: Gabrielle Etheridge
Munchkin: Olivia Fearey
Munchkin: Aleah Garcia
Ozian, Munchkin: Parker Gates
Munchkin: Brooke Gillaspy
Nikko the Flying Monkey: Benjamin Gitell
Munchkin: Jordan Gnepper
Auntie Em: Tatum Grell
Munchkin, Coroner: Ian Gray
Ozian, Jitterbug, poppy: Haley Hanni
Munchkin, Lolly Pop: Quinn Heim
Munchkin: Kendall Hook
Munchkin: Michael Hook
Munchkin: Morgan James
Ozian, Winkie: Albert Johnston
Ozian, Tree, Farm hand, jitterbug, poppy: Stephanie Larson
Munchkin: Savannah LeNuyen
Ozian, Tree, Farm hand, jitterbug, poppy: Carly McClain
Ozian, Winkie: Max Mendoza
Munchkin: Madelyn Moyer
Munchkin, Lullaby: Vivian Nichols
Munchkin, Lullaby: Molly Prefling
Ozian, Jitterbug, poppy: Hallie Reggio
Ozian, Poppy, Ghost: Zoe Rollon
Munchkin, Lolly Pop: Cody Rooney
Munchkin: Jaden Shah
Ozian, Poppy, Ghost: Maggie Sharp
Ozian, Winkie: Charlie Siegel
Ozian, Winkie: Alexander Silver
Munchkin, Mayor: Caleb Smalley
Munchkin, Lolly Pop: Elliot Thompson
Ozian, Winkie, Farmhand, Crow: Riley Thornton
Ozian, Jitterbug, poppy: Oriana Valcamp
Flying Monkey: Justin Vaught
Uncle Henry, Ozian, Winkie: Jack Walton
Ozian, Poppy, Ghost: Faith Wheelington
Munchkin: Ashyln Weir
Ozian, Poppy, Ghost: Audrey Williams
Ozian, Winkie, Farmhand, Crow: Andy Wissink

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