Plaza Theatre Company
Director – Jodie and Soni Barrus
Music Director – Soni Barrus
Choreographer – Angela Burkey
Set Design – JaceSon P. Barrus
Lighting Design – G. Aaron Siler, Cameron Barrus
Costume Design – Tina Barrus
Property Design – Josh & Caitlan Leblo, Carlee Cagle
Sound Designer – G. Aaron Siler
Stage Manager – RuthAnn Warwick
Makeup Design and Artist – Maria Bautista
CAST (from the reviewed performance)
Jason Phillip Cole—Scarecrow
Shauna Lewis—Ms. Gulch, Wicked Witch of the West
Joel Lagrone—Professor, Wizard
Angela Burkey—Auntie Em, Choreographer
Jay A. Cornils—Uncle Henry
Henry Cawood—Mayor of Munchkin City
Rylee Mullen—Munchkin Barrister
Jonathan Myers—Munchkin Coroner
Al Mayo—Oz Guard
G. Aaron Siler—Winkie Captain
Drew Sifford—Jitterbug Principal, Dance Captain
Murphy Parker and Olive Barrus—Toto
Trees—G. Aaron Siler, Hayden Cawood, Drew Sifford
Crows—Angela Burkey, Rylee Jenkins, Madison Heaps
Munchkins—Henry Cawood, Rylee Mullen, Paige Moore, Eden Barrus, Emma Whitehorn, Grace Dalley, I.J. Meachem, Mimi Barrus, Victoria Burkey, Rylee Mullen, Ty Drury, William Blanton, Jonathan Myers
Ozians—Drew Sifford, Harrison Cawood, Hayden Cawood, Anna Looney, Emma Dalley, Madison Heaps, Rylee Jenkins, Sherry Clark, Eden Barrus, Grace Dalley, Noe Myers, Emma Witehorn
Winkies—G. Aaron Siler, Drew Sifford, Hayden Cawood, Anna Looney, Emma Dalley, Eden Barrus, Emma Whitehorn, Grace Dalley, Henry Cawood
Reviewed Performance 1/31/2015
Reviewed by Angela Newby, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz, on TV, and was always enthralled with the magical Land of Oz. I might even admit to having dressed up a time or two as Dorothy, red sparkly shoes and all. I was thrilled to hear that Plaza Theatre Company was bringing this beloved movie to the stage, and I was not disappointed by their production.
The Wizard of Oz was first turned into a musical extravaganza by author L. Frank Baum himself in 1902. It debuted in Chicago and was a success on Broadway the following year. It then toured for nine years. MGM Studios’ rendition bore a closer resemblance to the novel in 1939 and won Academy Awards for Best Song and Score. There have been several musical theater adaptations, including the St. Louis Municipal Opera’s in 1945 and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s in 1987. Plaza Theatre Company performs the RSC version, which is adapted from the MGM movie.
Directors Jodie and Soni Barrus did an amazing job bringing the story together. Each and every element, from scenic design to costumes, was in harmony with one another. It was this synchronization that made their production one the best shows I have ever seen. The cast was perfect and worked well with one another. Soni did an outstanding job as Music Director, and each of the choral pieces were in sync and beautiful.
Set design by JaceSon Barrus was fantastic. From the opening Kansas prairie to the great land of Oz, nothing was amiss. Each scene was given the utmost attention to detail and it showed. The prairie was identified by hay bales, cast iron water pump and white picket fence, while Munchkinland was overly done in bright flowers and the oh-so-familiar golden brick road. The witch’s castle was brought to life with an elevated royal chair and heavy wooden door all must enter through. What really brought the set to life, though, were the amazing scenic paintings by Julie Asher Lee. Fifteen unique backdrops completed each scene to bring the story together. Barrus and Lee’s designs set the stage magnificently, making certain the audience had a full experience of the musical.
G. Aaron Siler and Cameron Barrus did an amazing job with lighting. In the Wizard of Oz, each land has its own mood, and their design did not disappoint. The Kansas prairie was full of yellow and orange undertones for an old-fashioned, sepia feel, while Munchkinland was full of vibrant colors and bright lights. Everything was transferred to green once Dorothy and the gang reached Oz, shifting into deep black and red once the foursome headed to the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle. Mood transitions were immediate and set the tone for each scene, toppling this musical over the edge.
Sound design, also by G. Aaron Siler, was thorough but often lacked implementation. Several times, vocal numbers were overshadowed by the musical tracks, and microphones levels made it hard to hear the words. Sound effects presented wonderful elements, such as hearing a metallic thump when Tinman rapped on his chest, the tornado coming on full force, and of course the clicking of the ruby red slippers.
Costume design by Tina Barrus is always a highlight of any PTC production, and here was no different. There were many costume changes within the ensemble, but also for Dorothy. It was the congruent effort between costuming and lighting that showed the depths of attention to detail. Dorothy originally wore a muted, tan gingham dress that was then replicated into multiple colors as Dorothy enters each of the sections of Oz. The Munchkin women were dressed in brightly colored hooped dresses, while the men wore pants, shirts and suspenders. Glinda was decked out in a pink formal gown with lots of tulle and sparkles to help elude her good witch status. Oppositely, the Wicked Witch of the West was all in black with a tall pointed hat, and gloves that sparkled with a green ring. For me, though, the best costumes were of the Scarecrow, Tinman and the Lion. Scarecrow wore typical brown pants and plaid shirt, but it was the patches with evident stitching, and the constant shedding of hay that made him authentic. Lion was where Barrus outdid herself. Every element of the lion suit was decked with fur and fur overlays to give dimension and body, and then enhanced with a curly mane to show a lion’s wild side. Tinman, created by Parker Barrus, was fully clad in gray/silver underlay with a silver tin covering. The costume was so well designed that, while made for mobility, still had an air of stiffness about it. There was not a single element of costume design not given 100% attention to detail and it showed.
Choreographer Angela Burkey had a small area in which to work, but did magic within in. It was especially true in Munchkinland, where thirteen or more bodies were closely moving in synchronization. “We’re Off to See the Wizard”, and each reprise, was wonderfully danced by the foursome, yet each within the elements of their character. Burkey made certain her choreography complimented not only the scene, but also the characters’ personalities. In “March of the Winkies”, the solemn faces and harsh staccato movements took the musical to the more evil dimension of the Witch. In “Jitterbug”, the ensemble perfectly executed the wild dance to the point of exhaustion, and I could feel the energy being zapped from the audience as well. Each element by Burkey was carefully beautifully planned and executed.
While all artistic design was amazing, it was only equaled by the cast.
Dorothy, played by Bella Murphy, was bright-eyed and full of smiles. In “Over the Rainbow”, Murphy showed off her vocal range and powerful voice. But while vocally adept, her non-verbal actions sometimes belied the script. She mastered Dorothy’s the feelings of joy but lacked when timid and fearful, especially her facial expressions that didn’t quite reach full potential. However, Murphy nailed voice inflection as Dorothy expressed each emotion. I loved seeing the crinkle in her nose as she played with Toto and gushed over Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion, as well as her wide “Oh” face as she experienced the Land of Oz.
Scarecrow, as played by Jason Phillip Cole, was full of energy and excitement the rest of the cast captured. From the moment Cole stepped foot onto the stage, he was in complete character, and I can’t imagine anyone else playing him. Cole’s movements were the highlight of his performance, walking on unsteady legs and acrobatically holding his own as he fell and tumbled around the set. Cole’s wide eyes and wavering voice complimented the script. Cole was solid in “If I Only Had a Brain”, deftly balancing his vocals and choreography. He was giddy and happy-go-lucky, and even after Scarecrow got a brain, his characterization slightly shift to show his knowledge, but always kept a glint in his eye. Cole was made for the role and gave his all to show it.
Nate Milson, as Tinman, was the perfect completion to the famous trio. Milson’s deep baritone voice was rich and full of hope as Tinman eagerly awaited a heart. His “If I Only Had a Heart” was soulful and sorrowful. His physical movements, while somewhat camouflaged by the costume, were natural and never contradicted the stiff movements of the Tinman. When scenes intensified throughout the musical, Milson, in true Tinman style, shook himself so forcefully, down to the knocking of his knees so there was no doubt the fear was real. Milson comically nailed the times when Tinman needed oil, speaking out of the side of his mouth or only moving certain body parts. Milson truly did a wonderful job bringing Tinman to life.
Billy Myers, as Lion, was my favorite character of the whole show. Myers’ portrayal was spot on, as he gave his all to the performance. Physically, Myers would play with his tail, look down, and nervously twitch and jump, all to show Lion’s cowardice. Vocally, Myers was pitch perfect in “If I Only Had The Nerve” and “King of the Forest.” It was in acting, though, that he showed his true ability. Through his deep baritone voice, the Lion came alive, enhanced through purring, a deep laugh, and over- exaggerated facial expressions. In “King of the Forrest”, Myers stood up tall, puffed out his chest, and with clear eyes, transformed the lion into having his courage. Myers never once faltered and made me fall in love with Lion even more.
The Wicked Witch of the West and Mrs. Gulch were both portrayed by Shauna Lewis, and she did not disappoint. The evil cackle of the Wicked Witch echoed off the walls of the theater, and intensified as the show went on. Lewis portrayed evilness with pointed glares and wringed hands to show agitation, and embodied it with her vocal inflections. Kathy Lemons, playing Glinda, was the complete opposite with her constant smiles and calming voice. Her “Optimistic Voices” showed off her vocal talent, bringing out her full range and power. All her movements were fluid, graceful and angelic.
The Professor and Wizard were played by Joel Lagrone and was a beautiful compliment to the rest of the cast. Lagrone’s talent clearly separated the two similar but different characters. As Professor, Lagrone was calm and paternal, enhanced by his kind eyes and gentle harmonic voice. As the Wizard, Lagrone was forceful and deepened his voice to show anger and rage, with his grimaces and scowled face.
Angela Burkey’s Auntie Em was the true depiction of a nice gentle woman. She was poised and confident, but had some fight in her when around Mrs. Gulch. Burkey used gentle smiles, hunched shoulders, and frantic voices as they try to find Dorothy. On the same hand, Jay A. Cornils as Uncle Henry, was calm and fatherly with the family, but downright firm with Ms. Gulch. Cornils’s strong tone and steely eyes showed Henry’s contempt, but then softened with concern for Dorothy, and his gentle pats on the back.
The musical was brought to life through the immense talent of the ensemble. Playing many parts, each were distinct and it was difficult to not believe each one was a completely different person. The comedic relief of the show came mainly from the ensemble and their great one-liners. The joy that radiated off each of them as they played all the supporting characters transferred straight to the audience.
Plaza Theatre Company has outdone themselves with The Wizard of Oz. The children in the audience were full of laughter and excitement, and the adults weren’t far behind. The energy projected from the cast to the audience was easily seen as they left the theater. Plaza brings this wonderful MGM movie to life and gives the movie a run for its money.
THE WIZARD OF OZ
Plaza Theatre Company
111 South Main Street
Cleburne, Texas 76033
Runs through March 7th
Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 pm and Saturday matinee at 3:00 pm.
Tickets are $15.00 for adults, $14.00 for seniors (65+), and $13.00 for children.
Group rates are available for ten or more.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.plazatheatre.com or call the box office at 817-202-0600.