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Review: ‘The Wizard of OZ’ at Greenbelt Arts Center

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Greenbelt Arts Center’s The Wizard of OZ, directed by Jon Gardner, is the epitome of joy, happiness, and sunshine; a theatrical ride to magic and wonder. With lyrics and music by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg, and Musical Direction by Daniel Flores, this 1987 Royal Shakespeare Company revival version of The Wizard of OZ is an early Christmas present for families and theater-lovers.

Marie Nearing, Loraine Hamlett, Sarah Dallas DeFord, Stephen P. Yednock in The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Jon Gardner.

Gardner explained the relevance of the show, written by L. Frank Baum in 1900, and released as a film in 1939, in his Director’s Note: “America in the 1930s needed brains, hearts, and courage to overcome the Great Depression, and to escape the evil that was building in Europe. Symbolizing the strengths in a community of farmers (Scarecrow), industry (Tinman) and government (lion), Dorothy’s journey of discovery is still relevant today.”

Lorainne Hamlett. Photograph by Jon Gardner.

This production was blessed with a magnificent Dorothy in actress Loraine Hamlett. Her grand-slam rendition of “Over the Rainbow” enraptured the house-capacity-sized audience. Hamlett also stood out in “The Cyclone.” Hamlett performed Dorothy as an earnest, Midwestern girl–a frightened stranger in the land of Oz, but determined to make it back home.

Jocelyn Gross, who has performed lead child roles in The Nutcracker the past two years, made an entertaining Toto. Gross made the most of a performance that consisted of body language, and a lot of crawling.

The always marvelous Stephen P. Yednock played every nuance of the Cowardly Lion character to perfection. From every “let me at ‘em” to every near-nervous breakdown, Yednock was a crowd pleaser. His vocals were on point in “If I Only Had the Nerve.”

It would take a proverbial wheelbarrow to carry all the superlatives one could heap upon Shakespearean actor Ian Blackwell Rogers, who played the eponymous Wizard and Professor Chester Marvel. Rogers was a marvel in all his scenes. He played his scenes with the air of a magician and the hint of a carpetbagger.

Sarah Dallas DeFord’s dancing and singing of “If I Only Had Brain” was one of the more excellent scenes in an excellent show. DeFord conveyed the limpness of a straw-made being to a fine degree.

Julia Frank. Photograph by Jon Gardner.

It was enjoyable to watch Marie Nearing’s Tinman-mannerisms. She played Mrs. Mayor nearly a year ago in GAC’s Seussical. Nearing’s solo of “If I Only Had a Heart” offered a strong emotional hook.

The Wicked Witch of the West and Miss Almira Gulch were played with an evil relish by Julia Frank, a real-life psychiatrist. With her verbal barbs and imperious manner, Frank invoked that familiar “love to hate” feeling in the audience.

Courtney James was sweetness and light in her performances as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North and Aunt Em. I liked her singing in “Poppies.” Dave Robinson excelled as the funky-green-hat wearing Emerald City Guard.

Co-Choreographers Rikki Howie Lacewell and Elizabeth Gardner brought a nice sparkle to the number “Jitterbug,” which was cut out of the 1939 film version. The number was well-performed by Hamlett, DeFord, Nearing, Yednock and the Ensemble.

The rather large ensemble rounded out the cast of 23. They played everything from Flying Monkeys, Winkies, Jitterbugs, Optimistic Voices, Ozians, Snow, Munchkins and Poppies and included the following cast members: Elizabeth Gardner (who will perform in the ensemble on Sunday, December 3rd), Melanie Arter, Sumayyah Bilal, Hannah Collins, Sophie Cooper, Findley Holland, Shawford Jackson, Snowdenn Jackson, Beatrice Marcavitch, Julia May, Miracle Omar, Felix Retterer, Jen Retterer, Samantha Roberts, and Melissa Sites.

Gardner, in his set design, ingeniously used a revolving door and three, four-by-eight flats to paint the backgrounds and colors of various scenes, including the gorgeous faux emerald walls of Emerald City by painted by Set Painter Jen Retterer, who was also part of the Ensemble.

A powerful highlight to the show was the projected video scenes designed by Eliot Malumuth, which visually moved the story forward. Steve Beitzell designed superior special effects that included bubbles, smoke and flash-bangs. I am not certain of the designer, but I liked the sleight of hand with Dorothy’s ruby slippers change. Costume Designer Susan Neff excelled in her design of the Flying Monkey’s and Toto’s costumes—and the Emerald City Guard’s gigantic, green top hat.

Shemika Berry’s makeup design made the good characters look pure and the bad characters look evil. The Background Music by Herbert Stothard set appropriate moods, and I loved the Dance and Vocal Arrangements by Peter Howard–and Larry Wilcox’ s orchestration. GAC’s The Wizard of OZ is certainly in the conversation for one of the best local musicals of the year.

Note: You can watch the trailer by clicking here.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

The Wizard of OZ plays through December 17, 2017 at Greenbelt Arts Center–123 Centerway in Greenbelt, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 441-8700, or purchase them online.

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