Review: ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at Theatre@CBT

Everything about the Theatre@CBT production of The Wizard of Oz (book by John Kane based on L. Frank Baum’s classic novel, music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg) was thoroughly entertaining. I was continually amazed at the scope of what was presented and the energy vibrating from the stage. Director Kevin Sockwell brought to life authentic reproductions of scenes most of us know well enough to recite. Wherever special effects were called for, the audience was thrilled with the imaginative stage direction and stellar performances. And I know this is true since I was able to check with audience member and 5-year-old theatergoer “R.L.” for authenticity and entertainment value!

Colleen Williams (Scarecrow), Elizabeth Weiss (Dorothy), Hugo Fine (Toto), Michael Chernoff (Lion) and Tom Baryski (Tin Man) in the Theatre@CBT production of The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Harvey Levine.
Colleen Williams (Scarecrow), Elizabeth Weiss (Dorothy), Hugo Fine (Toto), Michael Chernoff (Lion) and Tom Barylski (Tin Man) in the Theatre@CBT production of The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Harvey Levine.

If I closed my eyes, Elizabeth Weiss’ voice often mimicked that of Dorothy from my memory. Auntie Em and Uncle Henry (played by Susan and Michael Heney) fretted and fidgeted, counting chicks on a sparsely decorated set augmented by such realistic sounds (thanks to Stephen Beitzell) that the audience believed they were all on her Kansas farm. Farm hands Zeke (Michael Chernoff/Lion), Hickory (Tom Barylski/Tin Man) and Hunk (Colleen Williams/Scarecrow) bumbled about just as I remember.

When mean old Ms. Gulch (Jennifer Georgia/Wicked Witch of the West) clamors up claiming she was attacked by Dorothy’s dog Toto (Hugo Fine and Becca Fielding), Gulch leaves the farm with Toto in her handbasket (at this R.L. wondered how that actor fit into the basket?) and Dorothy runs away from the farm feeling unloved. Weiss’ aria “Over the Rainbow” was full and rich and deeply felt. On her travels, Dorothy encounters Professor Marvel (MollyBeth Rushfield). The Professor’s wild incantations and supercilious readings of the glowing crystal ball (a magical creation by Darcy Nair) were just enough to convince Dorothy to return home.

But a cyclone whips up before she can reach shelter and her whole world is set on edge! At this moment we were introduced to members of the Kids Ensemble. Briefly, the ensemble, about two dozen whirling dervishes under the direction of Child Wrangler Lauren Fielding and choreographer Ashlee McKinnon, was tasked to become the special effects engine. At particular moments they created the cyclone, munchkins, crows, enchanted trees, poppies, snow, Ozians, Winkies in training, and Jitterbugs (more on them later). Members of the Kids Ensemble included Hanna Barlow, Jayna Breslow, Dina Burman, Hannah Chernoff, Mira Conte, Ryan Cookler, Abby, Becca and Ella Fielding, Hugo Fine, Jessa and Sari Gabel, Emma Lipworth, Olivia and Sydney Martin, Rachel Melnick, Sara Perlis, Ido & Yaeli Selzer, Eden, Harrison and Sera Shaw, Tyler Smith, Liat Topolosky, Jaida Weisel, Jackie and Sabrina Williams and Laila Yunes.

Every musical selection, melody and background scenic augmentation was heightened by the spectacular live orchestra (Sam Welch, Conductor/Piano; Audrey Chang/Violin; Rose Weich, Baritone Sax/Clarinet/Flute; Catherine Hammes/Flute; Thomas Patchan, Trumpet; Matt Eisenberg, Horn; and Caroline Tyson, Alto Sax/Clarinet/Bass Clarinet).

Dorothy finds herself in Munchkin City where Glinda, Good Witch of the North (Lauren-Nicole Gabel) resplendent in perhaps the most elegant costume of the show (costumes by Elizabeth Weiss) informs her she has not only killed the Wicked Witch of the East (Sera Shaw) by dropping her house upon the witch, but she is now entitled to wear the witch’s powerful ruby slippers. Munchkin Barrister (Sabrina Williams) announces, Munchkin Coroner (Tyler Smith) certifies, and the Mayor of Munchkin City (Jackie Williams) proclaims honors upon Dorothy for her good deed. The stage almost overflows as Munchkin Land celebrates, singing “Ding, Dong the Witch is Dead!”

Unfortunately, the dead witch’s sister – Wicked Witch of the West (Jennifer Georgia) is none too pleased with this turn of events. Her scream upon entering the theater sent me, my reviewer buddy R.L. and the rest of the audience about 6 inches up off our seats! After the show, R.L. revealed that the Wicked Witch of the West was his favorite character: “… because she died!” I’m certain he was happy she wouldn’t ever scream like that again.

Jennifer Georgia (Wicked Witch of the West) and Lauren-Nicole Gable (Glinda) in the Theatre@CBT production of The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Harvey Levine.
Jennifer Georgia (Wicked Witch of the West) and Lauren-Nicole Gabel (Glinda) in the Theatre@CBT production of The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Harvey Levine.

The song and dance routines of Scarecrow (“If I Only Had a Brain”), Tin Man (“If I Only Had a Heart”), and Lion (“If I only had the Nerve”) were full of fun and dynamic range. Kudos one and all!

Just before intermission Dorothy, Lion and Toto succumb to the intoxication of a dancing field of poppies until Tin Man and Scarecrow summon the Good Witch Glinda to overcome the effect with dancing snowflakes. One understands how Fielding’s Child Wrangler moniker is so appropriate! Small humans came out of everywhere in all manner of costume to enrich the action.

Once they reach the end of the Yellow Brick Road, our entourage confronts the Emerald City Guard (Arielle Katz) with some zany wordplay and entendre until permission finally is granted for them to address the Wizard of Oz (Jeff Breslow). The grumpy wizard conditionally grants their individual requests – they must go and return with the Wicked Witch of the West’s broom handle.

Spying on their approach, The Wicked Witch orders her head Flying Monkey, Nikko (played by Sari Gabel, who substituted for the ill Jaida Weisel) to swoop down with his compadres and afflict the invaders with a curse causing them all to Jitterbug. The Jitterbugs (more dancing kids) are led by Momma Jitterbug (Rinat Ron) in a whirling, gyrating frenzy which creates a diversion by which Nikko can capture Dorothy and Toto and bring them to the Witch’s castle.

Toto escapes and finds our intrepid trio (Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion) to lead them back for Dorothy’s rescue. But first, a plan must be hatched to get past the castle guard Winkies who march and chant “O-ee-yah, e-oh-ah!” This hilariously interpreted gaggle of guards is played by Mike and Susan Heney, Arielle Katz, Peter Orvetti, Rinat Ron, MollyBeth Rushfield, Ryan Cookler, Harrison Shaw, and Laila Yunes.

Colleen Williams (Scarecrow) and members of the Kids Ensemble in the Theatre@CBT production of The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Harvey Levine.
Colleen Williams (Scarecrow) and members of the Kids Ensemble in the Theatre@CBT production of The Wizard of Oz. Photo by Harvey Levine.

During the ensuing rescue, Scarecrow is set ablaze (not really) by the Wicked Witch via a very clever broom lighting gag. Dorothy attempts to extinguish the blaze by borrowing an old Harlem Globetrotter water bucket gag, which leads to the destruction of the Wicked Witch. Her melting scene is carried out with the most clever osmosis of smaller and smaller with clings ever imagined. Well done, Director Sockwell and crew!

After the applause, R.L. confided in me that his favorite part of the evening was the snacks at intermission. It just goes to show you, kids really do appreciate the arts – expose them at every opportunity! I hope you were lucky enough to catch this thoroughly enjoyable presentation.

Running Time: Two hours, plus a 10-minute intermission.

The Wizard of Oz ran for two shows February 9 and 10, 2019, at Congregation B’nai Tzedek, 10621 South Glen Rd, Potomac, MD 20854.