by Roseann Cane
Prepare to be dazzled…if, like me, you’re fortunate enough to see theRep’s current production of The Wizard of Oz. I always expect to enjoy a first-rate evening of theater when I attend a show at theRep, but I’m so familiar with the film and various stage adaptations of Wizard that I hoped to be entertained at best. But like the beloved Dorothy Gale, I was blown away.
Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, an outrageously creative technical team, and an unfailingly superb cast have collaborated to present an interpretation of the well-loved story that, in my opinion, is phenomenally exciting, engaging, and full of delightful surprises.
As Dorothy, the irresistible Adia Bell wins our undivided attention from her first appearance. Graceful, vivacious, and poignant, her performance is thoroughly engaging, and she sings like an angel. (My only complaint about this show is that Dorothy grabs a ukulele to accompany her first rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. While the late Hawaiian musician Israel Kamakawiwo’ole scored a huge hit with his rearrangement of the song in the late 1980s, he made that version of the song his own. During The Wizard of Oz, the song is deeply moving because it transmits Dorothy’s vulnerability and longing, qualities that get lost when a uke suddenly appears. Because Bell embodies those qualities throughout her performance, minimal damage is done, but I still wish they’d scrap the ukulele.)
Along with Dorothy, only one other cast member plays a single role, and that, of course, would be Toto, who, in real life, is Halo Douglas, an adorable Shih Tzu-Yorkie mix. Halo is a consummate professional who’s a real team player, knowing her cues and understanding exactly when to shine and when it’s her cast mates’ turns to take the stage.
Early in the play we meet Uncle Henry: David Girard, who by my count plays at least four very different roles. As Uncle Henry his affection for his niece is genuine and disarming, and without a program, you probably won’t be able to keep track of how many scenes he’s in, so distinctive is each characterization. The delightful Barbara Howard, who plays both Auntie Em and Glinda, the Witch of the North, is sensational in both roles. As in the movie, farmhands Hunt, Zeke, and Hickory show up on the Yellow Brick Road as the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man; they are charmingly played by Tyler Hilt Mitchell, Kyle Garvin, and Conor DeVoe, respectively. As Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch, Katie Fay Francis is deliciously frightening. As Professor Marvel, the Wizard of Oz, and the Mayor of Munchkin Land, Kevin McGuire is at turns a fabulous phony and self-important smooth talker, and loads of fun to watch.
All of the music that many of us who watched the beloved movie Christmastime after Christmastime is there, and then some, including the Jitterbug song that was famously cut from the film. I could have done without the adults seated around me singing along, but in an odd way, it was touching to experience how this music is an important connection to our collective past. Music director Eric Svejcar and his fine musicians are to be commended.
One of the great surprises for me was the extraordinary creativity of the technical team. The show moves vigorously on Frank J. Oliva’s exceptionally adaptable and appealing sets, and incorporates all manner of special effects, including an abundance of beautifully designed sound (by Jeffery Salerno), strobe lights (thanks to lighting designer Rob Denton) and projected images (designed by Nathan W. Scheuer), along with wildly energetic and beautifully executed choreography (designed by Freddy Ramirez) and outlandishly fantastic costumes (by Howard Tsvi Kaplan), we in the audience feel the powerful tornado, flying houses, the sleep-inducing poppies. ( I should note here that the special effects and lighting could be harmful to those who are sensitive to such things.)
The unflagging energy and grace of the ensemble is a joy to behold. When I was advised that The Wizard of Oz runs about two-and-a-half hours (plus intermission), I prepared myself for a loooong evening. With Mancinelli-Cahill’s brisk, sure handed direction and her team of actors, designers, and musicians, how can I resist saying that the time flew? It did, though.
The Wizard of Oz runs through December 24, 2022, at Capital Repertory Theatre, 251 North Pearl Street in Albany NY. I understand that tickets for a few matinees sold out before opening night, so I would urge you to reserve your seats as soon as possible. https://capitalrep.org/