Regional Reviews: New Jersey
The Wizard of Oz (Arlen-Harburg-MGM): Centenary Stage's 3rd Annual Community Celebration
Also see Bob's review of The Sound of Music
Boasting a talented and enthusiastic cast of fifty, Centenary's The Wizard of Oz augments its Equity cast members with Centenary College faculty (who have professional stage, dance and/or music backgrounds), students from college who are largely theatre majors, community members, and two dozen youngsters from the Young Performers Workshop of Centenary Stage which draws eager students from Warren County and beyond.
Teenage Dorothy Gale is being raised by her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry on a Kansas farm where she dreams of a fuller, more satisfying life somewhere "Over the Rainbow." Dorothy's dog Toto has escaped from Miss Gultch, a mean spinster, who had seized Toto under a court order. In order to protect him, Dorothy runs away with Toto. On the road, Dorothy meets kindly Professor Marvel, an itinerant carnival hoaxer, who convinces her to return home. By the time she gets there, a tornado has driven her aunt and uncle, along with farmhands Zeke, Hick and Hunk, into the now locked storm cellar. As Dorothy rushes into her bedroom, her house is swept up into the tornado and flies into the sky. When Dorothy comes to, she discovers that her house has landed in the brightly technicolored land of tiny Munchkins, crushing the Wicked Witch of the East in the process. The jolly Munchkins are delighted that Dorothy has rid them of the Wicked Witch, but Dorothy has made a powerful enemy in her sister, the Wicked Witch of the West (who looks a lot like that awful Miss Gultch). She also has made a friend in Glinda, the Good Witch of the North.
Dorothy wants to go home. The Munchkins inform her that the only one who can help her is the Wizard of the land of Oz. So Dorothy and Toto are off to Oz on the Yellow Brick Road. Along the way, they are joined by the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, who hope the Wizard will provide them, respectively, with a brain, a heart and courage (the trio look an awful lot like, also respectively, Hunk, Hick and Zeke).
Highlights of this delightful stage retelling of L. Frank Baum's classic novel include:
- the viscerally powerful emotional impact which McKenzie Custin (Dorothy) brings to the musical when Dorothy expresses her hurt and anger over the surrender of Toto to Miss Gultch.
- the extensive and extended, often large scale, dances of director/choreographer Michael Blevins. His clever choreographic visualization of the "twister," and later the poppy field which incapacitates Dorothy and her companions. (This sequence is capped, in both senses of the word, by a picture perfect snowfall.) The delightful tap dancing, highlighted by an extended solo by Nick Ardito-Martelli (Tin Man).
- the terrific, classic score by the redoubtable Harold Arlen and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg delightfully sung with (uncredited) '40s style arrangements played by a nine-piece orchestra. A particular joy is the jazz style arrangement for "The Jitterbug" which had me wanting to dance in the aisle. Cut from the 1939 original film, but restored for this stage version, many will find "The Jitterbug" a new found delight. This is not the only revelatory jazz arrangement on hand (after all, Arlen wrote music for revues at Harlem's Cotton Club).
- the delightful and extensive aerial work provided by Flying by Foy. Miss Gultch, good and bad witches, crows, "flying monkeys," and balloons all take to the skies as much to our delight as to the delight of the younger set.
- the bright and imaginative stream of costumes (Julia Sharp) and scenery (Will Rothfuss) featuring a slew of eye catching backdrops.
- Jeremy William Hilgert bringing a bit of Bert Lahr to his Cowardly Lion; Saquan Williams bringing his own style to the Scarecrow; and Colleen Smith Wallnau realistically evil as Miss Gultch and deliciously so as the Wicked Witch.
All together now: "We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz!".
The Wizard of Oz continues performances (Evenings: Thursday 7:30 pm; Friday, Saturday 8 pm/ Mats. Wednesday, Sunday 2 pm) through December 9, 2012, at Centenary Stage Company (Sitnik Theatre) at the Lackland Center on the campus of Centenary College, 400 Jefferson Avenue, Hackettstown, New Jersey 07840. Box Office: 908-9794297; online: www.centenarystageco.org.
The Wizard of Oz. Book by L. Frank Baum/ Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg/ Book Adaptation by John Kane/ Directed by Michael Blevins