Follow the yellow brick road. Follow the yellow brick road. Follow follow follow follow follow the yellow brick road all the way to Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia, as they present the timeless classic The Wizard of Oz. Follow Dorothy’s magical journey from her aunt and uncle’s farm in Kansas to the wonderful land of Oz; a faraway land with a wizard, and munchkins, and witches, oh my! This production is very similar to the well-loved movie but what’s great is that the characters are right there next to you, singing and dancing just an arm’s length away. Director David James captures the mystifying enchantment of this 1939 screen gem turned stage show with an extremely talented cast, marvelous costumes, and spectacular special effects.
Costume Designer Samn Huffer creates a whimsical world with his costume designs. The bright blue and white checkered dress, the dingy old farm clothes, all the green outfits of the Emerald City – they’re all here. Huffer really shoots over the rainbow with some of the outfits, especially the munchkins and Glinda. We see every color of the rainbow in the munchkin costumes – an array of vivacious patterns and styles giving these munchkins a youthful exuberance which is enhanced by their child-like playful nature. Glinda’s dress is a wonder to behold; bright pink sparkling bodice with a huge skirt that flares out all around complete with a towering crown of majestic goodness. Huffer captures the color transformation between the dreary ‘black and white’ of the farm house and the bright colorful world that Dorothy discovers after the tornado with his designs. But the most spectacular costumes are the characters and creatures encountered in Oz. The Tin Man’s costume looks like actual metal and if you didn’t know better you’d swear it was. The Scarecrow is overflowing with straw bits from his ankle cuffs to his sleeves, and the lion’s mane is as curly as Shirley Temple. Huffer executes magical genius in this show bringing each of these characters to life with all of their costumes almost exactly as you remember them.
The magic continues on with all of the special effects that sparkle throughout the performance, coordinated by Lighting Designer Jimmy Engelkemier and Sound Designer Drew Dedrick. Engelkemier and Dedrick work together to create stunning visual and audio effects throughout the show; the appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West perhaps being their most powerful. A fierce cackle of thunder and smoke rips through the audience every time she appears, shocking you every time. They master the fearful wizard with his bright green floating head, as well as the horse of a different color, who manages to pick up three or four different colors as he rides across the stage. Engelkemier manages to fit the key piece of the puzzle together through crafty light design by projecting the yellow brick road onto the floor so that it appears as Dorothy takes each step. This dynamic duo makes the show that much more entertaining and the spectacle they achieve is astonishing.
Director David James works closely with Choreographer Paula Lynn to create some of the most incredible dance scenes you’ve ever seen. Aside from the perfect double-dutch style skip steps for Dorothy, and her loveable band of friends that she collects along the way, we see some pretty impressive instances of Lynn’s work throughout the show. When the cyclone hits dancers masked in flapping white sheets storm the stage and begin a series of circular dances that transport Dorothy and the house as well as the rest of the players in a whirl of confusion up through the twister. We see further impressive dancing when the Jitterbugs (Jessica Ball, Heather Beck, Jimmy Biernatowski, Ray Hatch, Tegan Williams, and Vicki Winter) shimmy-shake their way onto the stage in the haunted woods. A whole swinging jiving number breaks loose on the stage while these bugs sling themselves about, spreading the dancing fever to the other characters.
Lynn’s best work shines in the Scarecrow (David James), a role that won him A Helen Hayes Award in 1998. James’ clever execution of his limber disjointed dancing really gives the impression that he’s made of straw. He falls over himself and stumbles around the stage with clumsy falls and slides, tumbling over himself flailing his arms and legs as he collapses to the ground. James provides a hysterical rendition of “If I Only Had A Brain” boasting a beautiful timbre in his voice with a jovial youthful smile upon his face. During this number he breaks into a phenomenal dance routine that encompasses moves from jazz, ballet, and swing styles, all accentuated with his disconnected limbs. James’ comic timing is flawless, simple little one-liners delivered with exactly the right pause to truly enhance the effect of their hilarity; a brilliant performance well worth watching.
Joined in his stunning performance as one third of the iconic trio James gets to pal around with the Tin Man (David Gregory) and the Cowardly Lion (David Bosley-Reynolds). Gregory has mastered the art of moving as if his limbs are crafted from tin. When he bursts into his sweet heartfelt rendition of “If I Only Had A Heart” Gregory has a dulcet tone and gooey sappy eyes that appeal to the absence of his heart. He skips and dances equally as well, especially during the “Jitterbug” when he’s being flung to and fro by various bright yellow creepy-crawlies. Reynolds lives up to the role of the Cowardly Lion with rapid switches between his first appearance in the woods to his much wimpier side. He makes quite the fuss of going from fierce to wuss in no time at all. When Reynolds takes his two solos he sings with gusto and bold caution, belting his voice so that the audience knows what it would be like if he were king. Together this trio of actors make for a sensational show, reincarnating the characters from the screen so long ago to near perfection.
The show is filled with a plethora of fun loving characters. The munchkins will capture your heart with how adorably cute they are. The Lollipop Guild (Ray Hatch, Jeffrey Shankle, and Chris Rudy) are every bit as manly and grumpy as they were in the movie, Hatch, Shankle, and Rudy make little brusque faces as they perform their rigid dance. And the Lullaby League (Jessica Ball, Coby Kay Callahan, and Gracie Jones) is in contrast soft and sweet as they parade their little ballet. Keep your eyes on Coby Kay Callahan, she’s in a bright red dress with brunette ringlet curls, because she has the sweetest face of all the munchkins, constantly smiling and tossing her head from side to side like an adorable doll. You’ll easily be able to spot her in all the group numbers. And another eye-catcher is Jeffrey Shankle who takes on a number of roles, perhaps the most notable being the Emerald City Guard. As the guard Shankle leads a marching procession of Ozians through the streets of Oz, and has fancy footwork for all to enjoy. He sports a bright green mustache and shifts his fun-loving nature to a snippy irritable guard quite easily. See if you can count all of his other appearances, they will marvel you with their unique differences.
And watch out for the witches! Good Witch Glinda (Heather Beck) makes her entrance in the most grandiose fashion, complete with floating pink bubble. And when Beck enters the stage in that enormous pink gown she is every bit the childhood dream of fairy godmother. She sings a beautiful solo to bring the munchkins out of hiding, her melodious voice warm and welcoming as she sweeps across the stage with elegance and grace. Playing opposite of this good witch is the evil Wicked Witch of the West (Tina DeSimone). This wicked witch makes terrifying entrances that even scared me, and I’m a full grown woman. DeSimone has mastered the evil cackle, her wretched voice and sinister sneers at Dorothy delivering every bit of green horror expected from one of the most horrible villains in history. When the pair faces off over a pair of shoes the scene gets pretty tense.
And in the middle of it all is the stunning Julia Lancione as Dorothy. Lancione’s performance is second to none as she embodies this worrisome but cheerful child, bouncing with concern and an eager sense of adventure. When Lancione begins to sing that signature tune, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” it’s like she is channeling Judy Garland right to the stage. Her voice rings out like a bell as you follow her over the rainbow into that land where dreams really do come true. And when she sings and dances with her trio of fairytale friends it’s hard not to want to sing along. Lancione does absolute justice to this role, creating the epitome of little Dorothy in her blue and white checkered dress, ruby red slippers, and her little dog, Toto, too.
You will not find a more whimsical wonderful production this season. With all of the fantastic things you remember and some new songs and brilliant approaches to things like the trees in the haunted woods, and the field full of poppies, you’ll want to come back and see it again and again.
So remember, there is no place like home, except for this phenomenal production of The Wizard of Oz at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
The Wizard of Oz plays through July 1, 2012 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia – 5900 Symphony Woods Road, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 596-6161, or purchase them online.