An old favorite, refreshingly new and sparingly borrowed, blew into Gilbert when Hale Centre Theatre opened their production of “Wizard of Oz” last night. A truly creative Creative Team and talented cast sustained and invigorated what might in lesser hands have become a humdrum re-run.
As the lights dimmed, the audience was greeted with warm sepia tones of the set and wall projections, right down to the brown and eggshell checks of Dorothy’s gingham. Those hues recalled fondly the national “Wizard of Oz” tour that landed at ASU Gammage last year.
Within the inviting muted tones, warm familiar music began. While a doting and adorable Toto almost stole Dorothy’s ‘Rainbow’ number right out from under her, a mesmerized preschool girl in a front row seat knew that the sorrowful tugging music coming from a misunderstood teen was where the real focus should be.
Then, an impressive twister of a scene change transported a dizzied Dorothy to Oz. And when the dust settled, a beautifully colorful, superimposed golden brick road emerged on the theatre in the round’s floor.
So much of the show most of us have memorized is about Dorothy, of course, and only peripherally about a wizard.
Jessie Jo Pauley created a perfect juxtapose from Phoenix Theatre’s recent “End of the Rainbow” drama that shone a somber spotlight on the troubled woman (Judy Garland) that remained after the original Dorothy took hold of the American psyche. Both shows, in very different ways, focus on re-framing our expectations for who and what an actress who embodies Dorothy is all about.
Pauley artfully, with great respect to tradition, tiptoed outside the lines of Garland-crazed expectations. To Hale’s great benefit, young Pauley revived the wide-eyed and wholesome innocence America falls in love with, almost demands, of Dorothy. In addition, she made her somehow more feisty and hopeful.
The chorus of Munchkins, though not miniature people, were a delightful highlight in the show. Adding to Hale’s signature pristine chorale sound, Director/Choreographer Cambrian James injected catchier movement and steps than MGM originally conceived into his neon blazing Lollipop Guild and Lullaby League.
With a wonderful bit of stage wizardry that made youngsters gasp, the slippers on Dorothy’s feet magically transformed from brown to red, once the wicked easterly witch was dead.
As they met the familiar characters in beloved traditional scenes on Hale’s stage, “Wizard of Oz” movie groupies were in for treats of new material the stage version includes that the film does not feature. For instance, some clever crow puppetry reinstated the all but forgotten soft shoe Scarecrow (Jesse Thomas Foster) number while the crows kicked their heels together and parroted puns along the way. Foster’s easy, creamy tone, that Hale-goers have enjoyed in past productions, made Dorothy’s concluding thought that she’d miss him most all the more understandable.
Too, Jack Haley might eat his Tin Man heart out when Hale’s galvanized Vinny Chavez enters. Chavez’s vocal quality, clever choreography and fetching hollow tin sound effects breathed new life into the creaky role. Lion Geoffrey Goorin struck up a rapport with Toto that was hard to ignore; a coward with a sidekick was twice as much fun.
Hale’s supporting cast, chorus and dance corps, as per usual was comprised of a company of individuals who can and often do play stellar leading roles. Hence, it’s quality was above average. Pretty poppies flowed through their dance steps costumed in striking bouquets of red. The Emerald City citizens Soupy Shuffled like nobody’s business during a delightful tap break in “Merry Old Land of Oz.” They knew it on account of the cheers from the audience.
For the memories as much as for the new life, Hale Theatre’s current “Wizard of Oz” is well worth grabbing a pair of special shoes and heading out of your own back yard.
Saw it: Thursday, May 21, 2015
Runs: Wednesdays through Saturdays until July 3, 2015 – Tickets $16-$28
Hale Centre Theatre, 50 West Page Avenue, Gilbert, AZ 480-497-1181