SANDY — The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum has seen multiple adaptations ever since its publication in 1900. Easily the most famous and recognized version is the 1939 film version released by MGM Pictures starring Judy Garland. Regarded as one of the most influential and classic musical movies of all time, it was no surprise when a stage adaptation of said film was brought to life in 1987 and has been put on by theater groups ever since. Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy is the latest venue to put on this production, and it was an enjoyable evening filled with praiseworthy performances and spectacular technical wizardry of their own.
The performances of each actor in the show were executed beautifully. Some people may go expecting to see a carbon copy of Judy Garland as Dorothy or a replica of Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow. Thankfully, the actors and actresses in the Hale’s production showed their chops by creating new and original ways of portraying these timeless characters. While Hale Centre is promoting the show as starring local singing celebrity Lexi Walker, my guest and I had the privilege of seeing her understudy, Ava Hoekstra. Hoekstra was stupendous as Dorothy, with regards to both singing and acting. The script only has two solos for Dorothy throughout the performance: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and the reprise of that same beloved song. Fortunately, Hoekstra delivered a remarkable rendition and a memorable performance of the song with grace and with an absolutely beautiful voice. To match her amazing vocals, Hoekstra delivered a unique yet familiar performance of Dorothy Gale. While homages to Judy Garland were subtly present in the performance, Hoekstra also convincingly portrayed Dorothy with the air and vulnerability of the adolescent she is supposed to be (12-years-old in the original book). This talented 8th grader delivered a great performance—and certainly one I won’t forget.
The other great performance of the night was the surprising alternative version of how Toto was portrayed during the time the story takes place in Oz. Director Dave Tinney opted to have a string puppet version of Toto present during the sequences in Oz and it was executed beautifully by another young actor, Dylan Udy. The young actor held two bars which connected to the life-size puppet of Toto, convincingly wagging his tail and leaping across the yellow-brick road. Dylan Udy was absolutely on cue with Toto’s barking or growling, made known by the movements of the head whenever the dog would bark. There was no mention of previous puppetry experience in his bio, but the way he maneuvered the puppet made him look like a pro. It was cute, fun, and a great alternative to having Toto be a lifeless doll, as happens in some other productions.
To add to these great performances, the effects of the show were outstanding. With an almost new state-of-the-art facility, Hale Centre Theatre decided to go all out on this production. And why not? The whimsical story calls for flying houses, witches, monkeys, and many more things only seen in the imagination. I was wondering what Hale would do with this classic story when they announced this year’s season and, with regards to technical effects and illusions, I was not disappointed. When I thought the effects couldn’t get any more whimsical or bigger, I was trumped by whatever marvel showed up next. A few of the endless effects realized were a flying plane, hot air balloon and the signature winged apes. Easily, however, the greatest effect of the evening was the tornado sequence. I won’t give anything away, but I can honestly say that this scene was the most jaw dropping technical effect sequence I have ever witnessed in a stage production. Thanks to aerial choreographer Ramsi Stoker and set designer Kacey Udy, anyone expecting to see just a flying witch and house will get that and a whole lot more.
There were two instances of the technical choices, however, that left me a little confused and underwhelmed. The first occurred at the very beginning of the familiar overture. I was ready to enjoy the music and prepare myself for the show, when all of a sudden, the massive LED screens faded into the MGM Grand opening logo. But instead of the familiar growling lion, the screens displayed roaring in its place the live-action jester of the Hale’s logo. The audience was then treated to a exact copy of the film’s familiar opening credits in the sepia toned clouds, just replaced with Hale’s cast and crew. It was confusing, overly cheesy, and set the wrong tone for the show. My guest and I were distracted for the scene following, as it was an odd creative choice to start a live performance of The Wizard of Oz.
The second instance was the underwhelming realization of the Great and Powerful Oz. The stage had showcased amazing effects, props, and sets. The script calls for an emphasis on the Wizard’s awesome power and presence. I was anxious to see how the Wizard would be portrayed technically after having seen so many amazing effects. The wizard was then showcased on the LED screens as a CGI face that would appear and disappear quickly. He would move from one screen to the other, and it became tedious to keep moving my body throughout the scene. I was expecting a little more magic than what the wizards at Hale conjured up.
Regardless, the production was easily one of my favorites I have seen at Hale Centre Theatre. The cast was energetic and that energy was transferred to me in the audience. The technical effects alone are worth seeing the show for as they will leave you breathless and in awe. Hale Centre has taken a world-renowned book and film and gloriously made it their own. Take a trip down the yellow-brick road to Sandy and get lost in the magic, just as Dorothy does.