A stage production of the beloved musical The Wizard of Oz is always difficult, because of the inevitable comparisons with the 1939 classic movie engrained in our popular culture. However, the cast in the Other Voices Theatre production, under the excellent direction and choreography of Samn Huffer and lovely musical direction of Gary Schwartz, does a fantastic job of making each character their own, with an appropriate nod to the original silver screen actors and incredible technical elements in this live stage adaptation.
For those (probably few) not familiar with the classic story, farm girl Dorothy Gale is caught in a sudden tornado and her farm house is swept away to the magical land of Oz. After accidentally invoking the rage of the Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy discovers the only way for her to return home to Kansas is to visit the Wizard of Oz. Along the way, she is joined by a Scarecrow wishing for a brain, a Tin Man wishing for a heart and a Cowardly Lion wishing for courage as they journey along the yellow brick road to see the wonderful Wizard of Oz.
As lead character Dorothy Gale, Kelsey Swann is a natural fit for the wholesome and spirited farm girl. Her sweet demeanor and earnest portrayal is spot on and her facial expressions are extraordinary. Her solo singing is incredible, but Swann is unfortunately drowned out by fellow cast members whenever singing in her upper register.
Dan Henderson is fantastic as the Scarecrow with naturally limber, loose dance movements and a soaring tenor voice. Adam Blackstock does an excellent job as the compassionate Tin Man and knows exactly when to go wonderfully over-the-top with some corny comedic moments.
In an unusual casting choice, the Cowardly Lion in this production is played by a female, and Amy Hebb certainly made the role her own. With a phenomenal character voice and hilarious comedic timing, Hebb performed with enough masculine energy and zany physical comedy to, at times, outshine her male co-stars.
As the witches, Katie Kennedy and Susan Thornton were a dream team of good and evil. Kennedy as Glinda was perky, bubbly and absolutely adorable in a perfectly cast role of Good Witch of the North. Likewise, Thornton displayed an extraordinary stage presence and impeccable diction as the evil Wicked Witch of the West. Her character voice was incredible and more than likely terrified every child in the audience at times. Placing the two witches on the upper level of the platform set for many of their memorable scenes was an impressive effect.
Lee Hebb as the title character was particularly impressive. As an actor who made his role completely different from the famous movie portrayal, Hebb’s characterization of the Wizard and various smaller roles was very bold, and his strong Southern accent was a delicious cross between a fanatical Southern preacher and Kevin Spacey’s political character on House of Cards.
Dorothy’s beloved Aunt Em and Uncle Henry were sweetly portrayed by Valerie Wittkamper and David Chiarenza, respectively. Chiarenza in particular had a wonderful comedic presence and perfect timing on many of Uncle Henry’s dim-witted one liners. And of course, Toto (portrayed by a live dog named Ruby) was loveable and very well behaved onstage.
The children’s ensemble of Munchkins, including Anna Alt, Cali Cammarata, Loie Cristali, James Gasson, Jacob Holcomb, Chasey Horne, Chris McGuire, Amelia O’Heithir, Maxwell Owens, Shane Patil, and Alanna Vidal, was absolutely adorable. The adult ensemble, comprised of Daniel Becker-Cornblatt, Cody Bridges, Hailey Catron, Calle Colburn, Ethan Gasson, Payton Gasson, Allie Hough, Lena Janes, Katie Johnson, T’Neisha Johnson, Annie Krop, Kaitlin McCallion, Audrey McClatchie, Pete Meyers, Kendal Neel, and Jessica Puckett, playing Ozians, Winkies, and Flying Monkeys, did a fantastic job.
The set, nicely designed by Timothy Huth, was gorgeous and many large set pieces effortlessly fit on the small stage. Costumes, provided by Stage and Screen, the Old Opera House, Samn Huffer, and Dance Unlimited, were beautiful and vibrant colors popped in all of the ensemble scenes. The multi-colored trim on the Wicked Witch’s traditional black costume was also a nice touch. The lighting effects were amazing and truly made the show, from impressive strobe lights during the tornado sequence to gorgeous green-themed lights during the Emerald City scenes. The only less than stellar technical effect was the sound. The show uses pre-recorded instrumental music, and a happy balance has not been found yet. The background music was either too soft for the actors and audience to hear during some ensemble songs or, conversely, too loud and overpowering for the actors on some solo and duet numbers.
Many clever effects were used to represent famous scenes and plot points impossible to replicate on a live stage, such as the famous “Twister” scene and snowstorm in the poppy field. Dancers, including Caitlin Barnes, Savana Bridges, Samantha Fox, Drew Gasemy, Emily Holcomb, and Danielle Tuomey, clad in brown body suits and gigantic swirling brown capes, danced an elaborate routine around Dorothy and her revolving farmhouse to represent the tornado, to great effect. Similarly, Sophia Carlis, Loie Cristali, McKenna Drawbaugh, Abigail Gasson, Olivia Manos, and Emily Spurrier played the poppy flowers while Charley Bennett, Samantha Fox, Drew Gasemy, Lena James, Kaitlyn McGuire, Shelby Platner, and Danielle Tuomey played the snowflakes in a beautiful snowstorm ballet choreographed by Gayle Williams.
The beautiful set was noticeable even before the show began, as a lovely yellow brick road was painted along the walls upon entering the theater and a sparkling Emerald City building graced a corner of the lobby. Another nice touch was playing the original cast recording of Wicked as pre-show music, as a clever nod to the show’s prequel.
For an enjoyable evening of a classic musical for the “young and young at heart”, don’t miss The Wizard of Oz at Other Voices Theatre.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
The Wizard of Oz plays through March 8, 2015 at Other Voices Theatre performing at the Performing Arts Factory – 244 S. Jefferson Street, in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 662-3722.