“The Wizard of Oz” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ November 23, 2015


Phoenix Theatre, Mainstage Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Since Michael Barnard, Phoenix Theatre’s producing artistic director, arrived 17 years ago, he’s dramatically improved the company’s offerings so PT musicals, many masterminded by Barnard, have set a high standard expected by local theatergoers.  That’s why it is so difficult to report that the latest PT production, Barnard’s holiday staging of “The Wizard of Oz” disappoints dramatically.

There are a few good things about this “Wizard” including a trio of PT stalwarts who play the friends Dorothy finds on her travels to Oz.  Without Toby Yatso’s charming Scarecrow, Robert Kolby Harper’s bumbling Lion, and Ryan Kleinman’s glossy Tin Man, this production would be a disaster.  Except for this trio and a delightful dog, Bastien, there’s no magic in this “Wizard” and that’s a must-have ingredient for this show to succeed.

Rumors were floating throughout the audience that Friday’s opening night performance was plagued.  It would be hard to dispute that sad reality.  From the smallest detail like the way-too-early arrival of the far off city of Oz that appeared long before Dorothy and her gang were supposed to see it spoiled a key revelatory moment in the journey.  There were reports from a person involved in the production that much of the stage magic wasn’t operating properly including several promised flying sequences that never happened or occurred with clumsy awkwardness.

Imported costumes from the Fullerton Civic Light Opera are inferior copies of the dazzling movie originals, dreadful wigs are everywhere, bland and uninteresting dances from an imported choreographer are inferior to the usually captivating dances Barnard and his associate Harper have consistently crafted for past PT productions.  Dreary scenery is pushed and shoved into place by visible stagehands suggesting none of the lush grandeur that should frame “Wizard.”  Miserable lighting left leading players with brightly lit bodies but dark faces, and a live orchestra is hidden off-stage so the score is piped through the theater’s amplification system and it sounds pre-recorded.

There’s a terrible Dorothy in Carly Nicole Grossman who missed dialogue and several key cues opening night in an embarrassingly inept performance not appropriate at a professional theater like PT.

Smaller roles are handled without an iota of flair or spark like Sally Jo Bannow’s predicable nastiness as the Wicked Witch and Shana Bousard’s coy insincerity as Glinda, the good witch.

Let’s hope this sleep-inducing “The Wizard of Oz” is a momentary disappointment in Phoenix Theatre’s usually dynamic musical theater productions.  “The Wizard of Oz” drags on until December 27.  Find another holiday show for your family.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: D