The Orpheum Theatre and The Uncommon Theatre's holiday presentation this year is "The Wizard of Oz". The two groups have joined forces to bring this famed tale to the stage. Dorothy Gale is a teenager on a Kansas farm who dreams of going "over the rainbow" to escape her problems. The mean Miss Gulch wants to have Dorothy's dog, Toto, put down because he chased her cat and bit her hand. Dorothy is also having problems with her Auntie Em and her Uncle Henry who don't understand her problems and neither do Hunk, Hickory and Zeke, the three handy men who work on their farm. The tornado takes her away from the troubles she is having at home and brings her to Oz where her house kills the Wicked Witch of the East. The ruby slippers magically appear on Dorothy's feet after the evil witch's sister, the Wicked Witch of the West appears and threatens her, the munchkins and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. This well known tale is told in black and white in Kansas and in full color in Oz.( Written by Frank L. Baum with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg from the MGM motion picture with book adaptation by John Kane.) Under the expert direction of Bill Cunningham, music direction of Rob Goldman and the choreography of Dori Bryan, this almost 80 cast members tell this classic story wonderfully with gorgeous costumes by Daniel Kozar and wonderful sets designed by Michael Duarte. The special effects and technical direction is by Michael Teixeira with some stunning ones which capture the hearts of the audience. The sound is by Ed DiMarzio, the excellent makeup is by Daniel and Atia Gravely and the multitude of props are by Gail Gilman. This stage version of this classic tale receives a well deserved standing ovation at the end of the night as its reward for its fantastic and inventive presentation.
The cast is lead by Ashley Yarnell who is a lovely young brunette. She is sensational in this role with her wonderful acting, singing and dancing. Ashley plays up the comedy of the role but also makes you feel empathy for Dorothy when Miss Gultch wants to put Toto to death at the start of the show. However her best moment comes when she says goodbye to her best friends in Oz, leaving you with tears in your eyes at this tender, touching scene. This is the very heart of the play where she realizes everything she ever loved is right back in Kansas at home. This is the first time I have seen Ashley in a show but with her talent I am sure I will be seeing her very often in future productions.
Dorothy's three friends are expertly played by three outstanding performers. They capture every single comic moment with their clever repartee as well as tug at your heartstrings with the poignancy of the serious scenes, too. Michael Warner is limber and lanky in his movements as the Scarecrow as he falls down and jumps back up with ease as his stuffing keeps falling out. (Michael just finished playing Jesus in "Jesus Christ Superstar" this past summer, proving he can handle dramatic roles as well as comic ones with ease.) He shines in his song backed up by three crows, Brendan Auld, Jonathan Garven and Daniel Guay. Brian Gustafson who also has a tenor voice, plays the kindhearted Tin Man who is lacking a heart. (Brian just was married in August to Laura, his beautiful wife. She plays the Glinda, the good witch who helps Dorothy return to Kansas and shows off her strong singing voice with the munchkins. This is her first show as Mrs. Gustafson.) Brian who is over six feet tall, moves around the stage limberly while dressed as the tinman. He handles the pathos of this role, showing his heart has always been there in his touching scenes with Dorothy. He is backed up on his verse of his song with three trees played by Katherine Joy, Emily Garven and Allison St. Rock. Jeff Mahoney plays the Lion who lacks courage. His boundless energy and acting prowess soars across the footlights with his portrayal. He really shines in "King of the Forest" song, milking every possible laugh out of it with great facial expressions and delivery. (Jeff is a superb actor who I have seen in "Cabaret" as the Emcee playing across from his real life wife, Aimee Doherty as Sally Bowles.) One of the best dance numbers in this show is the Jitterbug. (I never understood why it was cut out of the movie version because it has a catchy tune.) The three guys and Dorothy not only do this dance but do a tapdance, Charleston and square dance. (Chorus members dance up a storm, too as do the enormous children's chorus.)
The biggest scene stealer in this show is D.B. Kozar as the Wicked Witch of the West. His every appearance on stage will leave you laughing in the aisles as he scares the crap out of you with an evil laugh. D.B. is a whirling dervish who enters the scenes with a flourish and leaves just as quickly. The evil taunts at Dorothy, threatening her life and her friends are brilliantly done and the audience loves the fire she hurls at the Scarecrow twice in the show. (D.B. is rewarded with much booing at the evil portrayal of this sinister woman at the curtain call.) Another evil person in the show, Miss Gultch is played wonderfully by Ginny Gordon while character actor, Steve Dooner who is also an excellent director (having seen his superb show "Doubt" in October) plays the Wizard and Professor Marvel bringing them to life with ease. The good people in this show include Laura Gustafson as Glinda, George Sullivan as Uncle Henry,(his one liners to Miss Gultch are hilarious) and Veronica Wiseman as Auntie Em. Only ten years old, Andrew Purdy plays the Mayor of Munchkinland wonderfully while wearing a huge gray moustache. (I first reviewed Andrew when he was six years old in "Cinderella" right here at the Orpheum Theatre and wow has he gotten tall. He is also an expert dancer who leads the lion in the Jitterbug.) Since this cast is so huge, it is impossible to mention everyone so kudos to all the singing, dancing cast members who make this a show to be very proud of. So for a musical treat be sure to join Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Lion in their magical journey down the yellow brick road in "The Wizard of Oz".Looking forward to their January production of "The Producers."