Review by Piper Chatman, Taylor High School Cappies Critic Team
“The Wizard of Oz,” an iconic Hollywood musical, is one of the most well-known movies of all time, but having been based on the classic story written in 1900, its challenge lies in remaining relevant to modern audiences. However, those who followed the yellow brick road to Cincinnati Christian High School’s production saw new life breathed into the age-old tale.
On a Kansas farm at the turn of the century, a young girl named Dorothy and her dog Toto find themselves caught in a tornado. Swept away to the magical land of Oz, they set off on a journey to find the illustrious Wizard of Oz to ask for his help in finding a way home. Along the way, they meet Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion who quickly become trusted friends. Though the Wicked Witch of the West is determined to stop them, the friends’ quick thinking and determination leads them to the Wizard and a newfound appreciation for the inner strength they had all along. John Kane’s adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s story added modern aesthetics and avant-garde approaches, which were all magnificently present in Cincinnati Christian’s production.
Every cast member had an accent or mannerism that differentiated them from each other. The modernized dialogue and student-led choreography added humor that was absent in the original movie, and the crew’s efficient set and lighting changes allowed for smooth transitions between scenes.
As the female lead, Abby Bowling portrayed Dorothy similarly to Judy Garland’s memorable version from the 1939 film adaptation, but she relied on her own talent to distinguish herself. Her emotional range was immediately revealed, changing from optimistic to desperate in a matter of minutes. The male lead, Zachary Schlake, played the clumsy, yet affable character of Scarecrow perfectly. His flowing movements and endearing tone made for a masterful performance. Schlake's ability to perform choreography as a believable strawman while maintaining the dialect while singing demonstrated his genuine talent.
Other noteworthy roles included Andrew Crane as Tinman and Olivia Reese as the Wicked Witch. Crane’s robotic movements and skilled line delivery made for a marvelous performance. Reese was a never-ending stream of delight, as her quips and laughs beguiled the audience. She perfectly captured the audacious character that is the Wicked Witch by engaging those in attendance throughout “The Jitterbug.” Her commitment to the role was flawless, and her placement served to showcase her strength without detracting from the action on stage. The cast’s dedication to their individual roles differentiated this production from others. In particular, Cowardly Lion’s difficult accent seemed natural, and her singing was delightful. In the second act, the Winkie Chorus stole the show with their hilarious speaking tone and allegiance to Dorothy after she’d slain the Wicked Witch.
Cincinnati Christian’s devoted crew came together to produce elegant audiovisual elements. Each setting was established with speed and ease due to the ingenious idea of having a three-piece mobile set. Props were placed efficiently by the stage crew. Lighting designer Jacob Brown created a realistic and, when required, intense tone for each scene. Although there was some feedback coming from the actors’ mics, the decisive thinking of the sound crew’s Emma Harrison quickly resolved the issue. The costumes added another layer of originality, with each one having a different texture, color, and shape.
The talents of individual cast and crew members resulted in an overall spectacular show. Cincinnati Christian’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” appealed to familiar audiences while tantalizing newer audiences with its up-to-date references.
Review by Matthew Eggers, Walnut Hills High School Cappies Critic Team
As the lights dim, the face of a boy in the back row lights up with excitement of the story about to unfold. Luckily enough, "The Wizard of Oz" is synonymous with classic American cinema, so to make even the parents smile with the nostalgia of watching it for the first time. But this is hardly luck. Rather, a village of actors, technicians, and one dog are needed to make this dream become a reality. Cincinnati Christian High School’s production of "The Wizard of Oz" captured the essence of the timeless beauty this show exudes.
Originally written as a novel by L. Frank Baum at the turn of the 20th century, "The Wizard of Oz" follows Dorothy Gale, a doe-eyed girl, accidently traveling via tornado from her family farm in Kansas to the technicolor world of Oz. Dorothy follows the yellow brick road in an attempt to find help getting home but meets some new friends and one green-skinned enemy in the Wicked Witch of the West. Through her fabulous journey, Dorothy is able to learn the importance of finding a family that will support you, even when the world is a hopeless jumble.
Leading the production across the yellow brick road, Abby Bowling as Dorothy Gale took each step with naive apropos. Her soft diction combined with her gliding voice, allowed for Bowling to effortlessly display the wistful melancholy that serves as the driving force for the story. Bowling also did an amazing job of balancing Dorothy's ranges of emotion from defiant to desperate to delighted, using each facial expression at the right time. But with each step Dorothy took, Olivia Reese, as the Wicked Witch, pushed back with gravitas and ear-ringing cackles. Reese’s performance was enchanting. Combining a nasal character voice and witchy physicality, Reese performed professionally, giving her character a brassiness with the power of a bugle horn.
Although Dorothy leads the way, the supporting and ensemble characters did an amazing job of maintaining a buoyant tempo in their scenes through strong characterizations and hilarious delivery. For instance, Hannah Marcum as the Cowardly Lion, a friend Dorothy makes on her journey, does an amazing job of strategically utilizing her voice and comedic timing. With an exaggerated Brooklyn accent, Marcum balanced her vocal quality and hilarious voice to be able to sing to the rafters and maintain that iconic accent despite sound difficulties. Another standout was Preston Rosenberg as the Mayor of Munchkinland. Rosenberg had a strong character voice and physicalization that accurately represented the Munchkins as a whole.
With more than ten unique settings, one of the most successful parts of this production was the set design. Thanks to Austin Whitton, Derrick Bowman, Alex Bertram, and thirteen other fantastic technicians, the simplistic, yet shockingly effective rotating rectangle set provided perfect backgrounds for each scene. While also working tandem with stage management (Olivia Mayleben and Isabelle Armour), scene changes moved with an efficiency one would expect from professional theatre.
As the cast took their final bow, the ensemble laughed and smiled with high-fives and fist-bumps to spare. It was wonderful to see how strong the cast bond appeared to be. This demonstrates the success of Cincinnati Christian High School’s production of "The Wizard of Oz," proving that home is with those you love right beside you.
Review by Lucy Lawler, Saint Ursula Academy Cappies Critic Team
Since 1900, "The Wizard of Oz" has been an American treasure. Even so, the story’s identity is relentlessly disputed; is it a mere fairytale? A political allegory? Whatever the answer, Cincinnati Christian’s production verified the tale’s universality.
Dorothy Gale is an ordinary girl residing with her aunt and uncle in rural Kansas. Feeling lonely, she longs to travel over the rainbow; as if on cue, a tumultuous twister whisks the heroine away to the mythical Land of Oz. Determined to return, Dorothy and her dog Toto) make fast friends: a scarecrow, tin man, and cowardly lion. Together, the ragtag group seeks out the “wonderful” wizard. Amongst ruby slippers and wicked witches, Dorothy realizes the true meaning of home.
Cincinnati Christian offered an ardent and aesthetic performance. The cast and crew were zealous, and their fierce energy mirrored that of any tornado. Contemporary elements (such as TikTok trends and fairy lights) heightened the musical’s cultural status. With a fresh lens, CCS Theatre created an avant-garde work of art.
From Judy Garland to Zooey Deschanel, several actresses have depicted Dorothy Gale. In Cincinnati Christian’s retelling, Abby Bowling donned the gingham gown. Bowling exhibited a child-like naiveté, but she also matured in accordance with her character. Conveying compassion and courage, she guided the plot with undeniable charm. Zachary Schlake, as Hunk/The Scarecrow, was neither stuffy nor corny. The actor was wonderfully expressive; furthermore, his exaggerated facials and vocals affirmed his character’s sociability.
Oz was also colored by the unique supporting cast. Olivia Reese portrayed the infamous Ms. Gulch/Wicked Witch, bringing exhilarating terror to the stage. Reese’s audience antics in “Jitterbug,” along with her powerful voice, established her as a lovable villain. Andrew Crane (Hickory/Tinman) and Hannah Marcum (Zeke/Cowardly Lion) were equally charismatic, travelling down the yellow brick road with humor and heart. The large ensemble upheld the fantasy: scarlet poppies, dainty snowflakes, and whimsical Winkies added a sense of constant vitality. The munchkins, played by CCS's elementary students, hinted at the production’s appeal to all ages.
The show’s technical features were certainly magical. The set team, led by Austin Whitton, developed a striking, steampunk visual aesthetic. In lieu of a bubble, Glinda resided in a gorgeous swing carefully adorned with flowers, fabrics, and twinkling lights. Other daunting pieces, such as the witch’s tower and Dorothy’s bedroom, were both mobile and magnificent. Olivia Mayleben (senior) and Margaux Heid (freshman) choreographed with enthusiasm, visible especially through the lifts and flips of “Jitterbug” and “Poppies.” The stage crew’s proficiency was also impressive, as they conducted scene changes in a fluid manner that never disrupted the action. Isabelle Armour transcended her stage manager duties by hand-painting each square on the yellow brick road.
Sacrificing imitation for ingenuity, Cincinnati Christian effectively revamped an American classic.
Excerpts from Top Reviews
“Many people have played the role of Dorothy Gale, but few can pull off the child-like curiosity and playful wisdom that she possesses so perfectly. However, Abby Bowling truly embodied her spirit perfectly. In addition, the live dog accompanying her, named Mack Clark, really helped to develop her character arc in a realistic way.” -Juli Ross, Highlands High School
“Led by the hard-work of stage managers Isabelle Armour and Olivia Mayleben, the production crew proved to be both innovative and skilled. Austin Whitton, Derrick Bowman, Alex Bertram and other crew members designed and constructed many impressive set pieces with Glinda’s swing and the witch’s tower being two stand-outs.”
-Kelly Oberst, Larry A. Ryle High School
“Olivia Reese superbly contrasted her as the Wicked Witch. With her evil cackle and fanatical expressions, she dominated the stage. While trapping the travelers with “The Jitterbug," her powerful vocals stood out, as did her hilarious asides.
The three travelers who accompanied Dorothy functioned well as a unit but also showcased their own individual strengths. As the Scarecrow, Zachary Schlake bumbled around the stage after being freed, effectively creating a unique posture for the Scarecrow.”
-Elizabeth Volk, Saint Ursula Academy
“The Wicked Witch and Tin Man were easy to distinguish due to the work of hair and make-up of Olivia Mayleben, Liberty Koehling and Macy DePew. The two characters' green and silver skin remained consistent throughout the show despite the strenuous choreography. Choreography by Olivia Mayleben and Margaux Heid brought the whimsical world of Oz to life.”
-Caitlin Boutwell, Ursuline Academy
“Along with the Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy’s newfound companions, the Scarecrow (Zachary Schlake), the Tinman (Andrew Crane), and the Cowardly Lion (Hannah Marcum), brought both comic-relief and sincerity that continually advanced the plot. Each performer encapsulated the appropriate disposition of his or her character. Schlake’s clumsiness, Crane’s tap dancing, and Marcum’s persistent fear parallel the original movie and remained entertaining throughout the entire show.”
-Ainsley Helling, Ross High School
“For all the accomplishments of the cast, there were just as many on the technical side. The stage management (Isabelle Armour and Olivia Mayleben) and stage crew carried out every scene transition quickly and effortlessly, only adding to the quality of the show. The makeup and hair team (Macy DePew, Liberty Koehling, and Olivia Mayleben) perfectly created the facade for the interesting characters in Oz, especially in the design of the Wicked Witch’s (Olivia Reese) makeup and the Cowardly Lion’s (Hannah Marcum) hair.” -Maya Batshoun, Notre Dame Academy
“However, the real showstopper was Olivia Reese as The Wicked Witch of the West. She truly stole every moment she was on stage, as both Miss Gulch and The Wicked Witch; her voice fit both characters like a glove. Reese's performance of "The Jitterbug" was phenomenal, creating suspense for the number and left an overwhelming feeling of Awe. It was a remarkable performance that instilled a feeling of fear that the character is meant to radiate.” -Mia Karlsson, William Mason High School
About The Cappies of Greater Cincinnati
The Critics and Awards Program strives to recognize Greater Cincinnati’s talented community of young writers, performers, and technical crews. High school theatre and journalism students who participate in the Cappies program are trained as critics, attend shows at other schools, and write and publish reviews. At the end of the school year, the student critics vote to give awards to their fellow students for outstanding productions, group and individual performances, and achievements in technical categories. Awards are presented at the annual Cappies Gala. Find more reviews at CinciCap.com/reviews.