Ever heard of a scarecrow without a brain, a tin man without a heart or a lion without courage? Or what about Dorothy, a Kansas farm girl, and her little dog, Toto?
The familiar characters from “The Wizard of Oz” all come together at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix June 9-25, courtesy of Valley Youth Theatre. The show is one of three being produced this summer in a collaboration of the Herberger with VYT and Arizona Broadway Theatre. The other two are ABT’s “Beauty and the Beast” July 7-16, and VYT’s “Shrek the Musical,” Aug. 11-27.
“This partnership is about brainstorming ideas on how to create new performing arts patrons and get the word out that Phoenix has a thriving year-round arts calendar and family-friendly productions that are enjoyable for all ages,” says Bobb Cooper, VYT’s producing artistic director. “Your children are out of school for the summer, and Phoenix is about to get really hot. What better time to introduce them to a cool, live theater experience?”
As for Dorothy and Toto, they’re not in Kansas anymore. Swept away by a huge tornado, they just want to get back home, but to do this, they must travel to the Emerald City and find the great Wizard of Oz. Can the Wizard help them, or will the Wicked Witch of the West win out? And what will happen to the famous ruby slippers?
Bringing the musical’s classic songs to life in VYT’s production is a live orchestra, which joins almost 60 talented young actors from around the Valley. Also impressive are the 125 colorful costumes, and a set, complete with props, used at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. It’s so big, it arrives at the Herberger in two huge semitrucks.
Valley Youth Theatre was established in 1989. Its alumni include the likes of Emma Stone, Kimiko Glenn, Jordin Sparks, Chelsea Kane, Krystina Alabado and Charity Dawson, among others. And guess who played Toto in VYT’s 2005 production of “The Wizard of Oz”: Emma Stone’s dog, Jacklynn Marie.
It’s impossible to tell which of the current cast members will go on to fame and fortune, but everyone has a shot. In the lead role of Dorothy is Kendra Richards, a 15-year-old freshman at Horizon High School in Scottsdale. Recent credits include Belle in “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre and Jane in VYT’s “The Secret Garden.”
Cast in his third role at VYT is 16-year-old Jared Barbee as Scarecrow, the one in need of a brain. Jared previously played Gander in “Charlotte’s Web” and Lumière in “Beauty and the Beast” at Odyssey Institute Theatre at Odyssey Institute in Buckeye, where he is a sophomore.
Tin Man, who needs a heart, is played by Asher Sheppard. Currently a college student, the 19-year-old was homeschooled and took part in several shows at Fountain Hills Theater, including “Into the Woods” (he played Cinderella’s prince and the wolf), and “The Fabulous Fable Factory,” for which he won an ariZoni Award for Best Actor in a Major Role – Youth Play for his portrayal of Mr. Aesop.
Steven Enriquez (the Lion) has also played Roger in “Grease” and Fakir in “The Secret Garden” for VYT. Other roles for the 16-year-old junior at Mesquite High School in Gilbert include Jafar in “Aladdin” at Fountain Hills Theatre and Emile de Becque in “South Pacific” at Spotlight Youth Theatre.
When it comes to “The Wizard of Oz,” the tale never gets old, though the format changes. L. Frank Baum wrote the original story, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” published in 1900, followed by more books in the series. Then came the 1939 movie classic starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. Tickets for the Herberger production can be purchased separately or in a discounted bundle that includes “Beauty and the Beast” and “Shrek the Musical.”
“All three musicals address hope and hopelessness, adversity and overcoming adversity and are classics in their own right,” says Cooper. “Audiences will get a triple dose of happiness and great entertainment.”
If you go: June 9-25; 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix. $16.50-$34.50 plus fees. Additional savings when you purchase a three-show bundle for “The Wizard of Oz,” Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” and “Shrek the Musical.” 602-252-8497 or herbergertheater.org or vyt.com.