Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Millbrook: "The Wizard of Oz"

"We're off to see the Wizard......" The Millbrook Community Players are currently showing a sold-out run of The Wizard of Oz, involving a cast of some forty-five actors, and costumes and performances which replicate those in the 1939 film that this musical production emulates. Based on L. Frank Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the film starring Judy Garland wasn't an instant hit, but has gone on to become one of the most beloved of American classics.

Under A. John Collier's direction, the Millbrook production is true to the film's design and to the lessons it gently delivers: "There's no place like home" still registers for both the young and young at heart. And the familiar songs have audience members taping their feet and quietly singing along with the energetic cast.

The action does lag a bit from over-long set changes and the backstage juggling of so many actors, but the spirit of the show is infectious and has audiences cheering by the end.

Dorothy's [Jubilee Lofgren] trip to the land of Oz is triggered by a Kansas tornado; she wakes up to assorted Munchkins, witches, wizards, and a talking scarecrow, tin man, and lion -- the dream versions of the real people she left on her Aunt's and Uncle's farm. Of course, she wants to get back home, but must earn the return by learning valuable lessons. She, like her companions, has the ability all along, but must realize it for herself before she can go back.

The costume crew and the cast have replicated the movie's signature costumes, making all the major characters instantly recognizable; as expected, the actors deliver their performances in ways that approximate their film models while adding a good amount of originality to them.

Roger Humber [Hunk/Scarecrow], Michael Snead [Hickory/Tinman], and Joe Nolin, Jr. [Zeke/Lion] have uncanny resemblances to the movie version's Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr, and come to life in their roles as they accompany Dorothy to see the Wizard of Oz [Ron Harris also plays Mr. Marvel] in hopes of getting back to the Kansas farm where she lives with her Uncle Henry [Randy Burdick] and Aunt Em [Emily Burdick]. -- Aided by Glinda, the Good Witch of the North [Jennifer Gay] and a host of Munchkins and Ozians, Dorothy and her three new friends [along with Toto (a dog named Murphy Snead threatens to steal the show)] make it to Oz, but not without the taunts and deviously attacks on them by the Wicked Witch of the West [Janie Allred, who also plays the nasty rich neighbor Miss Gultch] and her cohorts of monkeys and soldiers. -- Miss Allred's Witch, with her long hooked nose and bilious green face glowering, plays the arch-villainess to the hilt as she seeks revenge on Dorothy for the death of her sister and the return of her ruby slippers; she garners "boos" with some regularity, and receives deserved cheers at the curtain call for her performance.

Katy Gerlach on piano keeps the action moving and serves the songs well. "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead", "Yellow Brick Road", and "Off to See the Wizard" are all lively chorus numbers with simple choreography by Daniel Harms. -- Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion each believe they lack something that the Wizard can provide in singing "If I Only Had a Brain/Heart/the Nerve (courage)"; yet, it seems they actually possess these traits, made clear by their abilities to help Dorothy and each other in their quests.
Mr. Nolin's "If I Were the King of the Forest" brings down the house.

Of course, the most famous song "Over the Rainbow" catches everyone's heart. Ms. Lofgren, a high school senior and veteran of several Millbrook productions, is an ideal Dorothy. She exudes confidence on stage, has a pleasant singing voice, and a charming demeanor that make it easy for audiences to care about her. -- So, when she makes it back to Kansas by clicking her heels three times and saying "There's no place like home", she -- and we -- have learned that she doesn't have to look very far to find true happiness.