Our Audience And Critics Agree: THE WIZARD OF OZ Is A Smash Hit! (Reviews Included)

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Plaza Theatre Company’s production of THE WIZARD OF OZ has become the fastest selling show in PlazaCo history. And critics and our audience agree its because the show is a thrilling adventure for children AND adults. We strongly encourage those who wish to attend to reserve as soon as possible. Dates are filling extremely fast for this spectacular Plaza production. Call 817-202-0600 or visit www.plaza-theatre.com for reservations.

Below we’ve included the two critical reviews of the show. PTC sends our thanks and congratulations to directors Jodie and Soni Barrus and the entire cast & crew for their excellent work. Read on for some excellent notices for the show then give us a ring at 817-202-0600 to reserve.

THE WIZARD OF OZ at Plaza Theatre Company
by Angela Newby of The Column by John Garcia

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.
_________________________________________________________

COSTUMES IN PLAZA’S “WIZARD” WILL ELICIT “OOHS” AND “AAHS”
by Paul Gnadt of The star Group Newspapers

Because you already know the story, and because the singing and acting is the what-you-expect-it-to-be high quality of a Plaza Theatre Company production, “The Wizard of Oz” is all that more enjoyable because of the wizard of the wardrobe.

The amazingly clever, colorful and creative costumes designed by Tina Barrus are themselves co-stars of the classic musical, now playing at the Plaza Theatre in Cleburne.

Barrus, one of the four founders of PTC, has won multiple Column  Awards — the Metroplex version of the Tony Awards — for costume design and should certainly be nominated for this effort.

Barrus’ design of the Scarecrow, Tinman, Lion and Wicked Witch of the West are good, but probably not much different than what you’d see when your local high school produces the play.

It’s the other costumes where her talent really shines: the colorful Munchkins, Poppies, Ozians, Winkies, Monkeys and Jitterbugs.

Just wondering what’s next puts an element of surprise in the familiar story line.

Kudos to Barrus’ costume construction team of Michelle Cawood, Elizabeth Dalley, Linda Hood, Donna Moore, Noe Myers, Dale Parker and Amy Skinner.

The crew is so integral to the production that, instead of the usual mention in small print in the playbill, they deservedly have their own page right next to the cast.

Another delight is the dance routines choreographed by Angela Burkey, who somehow finds time to play Auntie Em and one of the trio of funny crows.

In multiple dance numbers, Burkey has as many as 20 characters leaping, twirling and maneuvering around Plaza’s intimate floor-level stage surrounded by its 160 theater-style seats.

The costumes and dancing are so good that you forget many of the characters are youth and children. Praise also goes to makeup designer and artist Maria Bautista and her team of Erin Bautista, Noe Myers and Katrina Sellens.

While “Oz” may be a children’s story, it’s the adults who carry the load.
Directors Soni and Jodie Barrus have assembled a quality cast that features Bella Murphy (double cast with Julianna Keller) as Dorothy, Jason Phillip Cole as Scarecrow, Nate Milton as Tinman and Billy Myers as the Cowardly Lion.

Each can sing, with Murphy, as Dorothy on the night I attended, having just the voice you want her to have. After watching the movie, you can’t help comparing her to Judy Garland.

Not all of Barrus’ clever costumes are about people and animals. Three apple trees (Haden Cawood, Drew Sifford and G. Aaron Siler) come to life in a couple of humorous scenes.

While the apple trees can walk on and off the stage, play-goers when arriving can’t help but notice two large prop trees lying on the sidewalk in front of the theater.

They’re just part of the clever set constructed by codirector Jodie Barrus and his son, JaceSon, also a PTC founder. The set includes three video screens for the tornado scenes, designed by Siler, the talking tree, who is yet another founder of the PTC.

The plot follows the movie. Young Dorothy, evidently without parents, lives with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry (PTC veteran Jay Cornils) on their small farm in Kansas.

Dorothy dreams about adventures in a place at the end of the rainbow, which leads to the iconic song. We’ve all been there, children dreaming about places beyond our back yards where we win the race, rescue the victim or intercept the pass to win the Super Bowl.

Conflict arrises when Dorothy’s dog, Toto, played with perfect doggie decorum by a real mixed breed, bites local sour puss Ms. Gulch, who gets an order from the sheriff to take Toto away.

The dogs are double cast. It was Olive Barrus (owned by the Barrus family) on the night I attended. You might see Olive or Murphy.

When no one supports Dorothy’s plea to prevent Toto’s removal, she takes him and runs away. Mrs. Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West are both played by 17-show PTC veteran Shauna Lewis, who seems to revel in these type roles, her also having played the rascal Ouiser in the recent “Steel Magnolias.”

Dorothy meets a traveling salesman (Joel Lagrone, who also plays the Wizard) who tries to persuade her to return home, but a tornado transports her to a strange land where the only way home must be granted by the Wizard of Oz.

On her way to meet the wizard, Dorothy befriends a scarecrow who needs a brain, a tin man who needs a heart and a lion who needs courage, three traits that equate to bravery, love and devotion.

The songs, as a result of each meeting (“If I Only Had a Brain,” heart and the nerve), are well done. Dorothy is aided by Glinda, sometimes called the Good Witch of the North, played by Kathy Lemons, whose excellent voice can be heard above the children in many numbers.

Eventually, the wizard is revealed as a fraud, Dorothy douses the evil witch who disappears in a clever scene and Dorothy returns home to utter her timeless line.

This is another Plaza perfecto performance. See it.

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