With the swirling twister of the holidays surrounding us, it’s safe to say that the Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy is offering sunshine, rainbows and a reprieve from the demands of the season in the form of a beloved classic: “The Wizard of Oz.”
Seeing the stage production is like coming home for longtime fans of the 1939 film, which starred a 16-year-old Judy Garland, especially with 16-year-old Utah favorite Lexi Walker single cast and taking on the iconic role of Dorothy Gale from Kansas.
The show served as a long-needed date night for my husband and I, but other than the length (well over two hours), and a few startling lights and sounds, the Hale Centre Theatre has cooked up a production of the classic that is fantastic, and engaging for audiences of all ages.
One thing I never cease to be amazed with when catching a performance at the Hale Centre Theatre is just how fully and completely the company utilizes the incredible resources provided by its new Sandy venue, though you may not guess it from the opening moments of “Oz.”
The show kicked off just as the film did, with a monochromatic, introduction blazing on the big screens that cover the walls of the circular Centre Stage theater, all while the classic tones of the movie’s soundtrack gave the audience an instant feel of nostalgia and familiarity.
“The Wizard of Oz” tells the timeless story of a young girl agonizing for something more than her simple life on the farm where she believes her only friend is her dog, Toto. A basic, bare bones set and dull colored costuming gave credence to Dorothy’s clear frustration with her mundane world, and, just like in the film, a wistful, longing rendition of “Over the Rainbow” sets the stage for an evening of excitement and a whole new world of color and light.
The casting for the show — which, on Monday/Wednesday/Friday shows also includes Carolyn Hartvigsen as the villainous Miss Gulch and Wicked Witch of the West, Eden Benson as Aunt Em and Glinda the Good Witch, Jordan Dahl as “Hunk” and Scarecrow, Preston Taylor as “Hickory” and Tin Man and Dustin Bolt as “Zeke” and the Cowardly Lion, among many others — was brilliantly executed to truly pay homage to and build upon the foundation set by the highly popular classic film.
With an incredible doggie actor as Toto at both opening and closing and a fun marionette version of the dog through the rest of the show, all the pieces were in place for a little bit of Hale magic, which came on hard and fast as soon as Kansas was in the rearview.
As most fans of the show know, Dorothy’s trip to the wonderful world of Oz comes via twister, and I had some pretty high expectations for the transition, given the things I’ve seen in the theater in the past.
Though no actual wind was ruffling the audience (my secret hope), the action on stage was everything I wanted: The talented tech crew made excellent use of the theater’s fly system, sending a lighted house soaring through the air, along with Miss Gulch on a bicycle (just like the iconic moment in the film).
Extreme kudos go to Josh Roberts, Jennifer Stapely Taylor and Kacey Udy for light, costume and set design respectively, as well as their teams. The effects, transitions and design literally brought Oz to life in the most magical of ways, with the first impression following the twister setting a high standard that was met again and again.
After the storm, Dorothy’s house, of course, lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, sparking a celebration in Munchkin Land and a sharp, glorious and colorful contrast to the dull tones of Kansas. Bringing the technicolor splendor of the classic film to life is an energetic performance overlooked by a glistening Glinda (Benson), who hovers and drifts above the stage in her very own magical bubble. Her dress billows around her and offers all the frills, glitter and glam necessary to make any princess jealous.
Though I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow of a show you’re already likely familiar with the story of, I will offer that the Hale Centre Theatre takes all that fans love about the film and elevates it in a live version that’s entirely engaging.
Each member of the cast played their roles with intensity and zeal, with Dahl’s take on Scarecrow particularly standing out thanks to his impressive movement and flexibility that really did give the feel of an inhuman litheness accentuated by stage effects such as trampolines.
Though Walker kept Dorothy very much to the iconic, albeit querulous, rendition by Judy Garland, she nailed that perspective, making the evening a very nostalgic one for many.
Combining the acting with an impressive use of the fly system (soaring witches and flying monkeys, a hot air balloon and flying car, lively aerialist trees and more) lasers, lighting, glitter and confetti, not to mention perfectly timed scene transitions and onstage adaptations, it made for the perfect escape from the hullabaloo of the holiday season. “The Wizard of Oz” will run through Feb. 2 at the Centre Stage theater, with more details at hct.org.