La Comedia Dinner Theatre, located in Springboro, Ohio (between Cincinnati and Dayton), is famous for mixing great food and good theater. Their latest production is a well-performed stage version of the film classic The Wizard of Oz.
The Wizard of Oz follows the young Dorothy and her dog Toto on a journey to the land of Oz, where she is befriended by the likes of the Scarecrow, the Timman, and the Cowardly Lion. She must avoid the Wicked Witch of the West in order to meet the great Wizard and return home to Kansas.
The well-known and melodic score by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg contains such gems as "The Yellow Brick Road", "We're Off To See the Wizard", "Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead", and of course, "Over The Rainbow". L. Frank Baum's story is endearing as always and is a rich mixture of fantasy and homespun values.
La Comedia has assembled one of its strongest casts ever for this show. Kristin Mingoia is a wonderful Dorothy. She singing voice is very reminiscent of Judy Garland in interpretation and quality. Though her voice drops the very highest notes in the vocally challenging "Over The Rainbow", Ms. Mingoia sings beautifully and is a fine actress as well. As her three friends, Paul Caspary (Scarecrow), Jose Solivan (Tinman), and M.J.J. Cashman (Lion) each display strong vocal and dancing skills and are perfect fits for their roles. Mary-Ann Trippet (Wicked Witch), Stevy Rhodehamel (Glinda), and Bobb James (Wizard) are likewise effective and appropriate as other supporting characters. Most of the inhabitants of Munchkinland are played by two alternating sets of eighteen children each. These young actors appear to be well rehearsed, perform with lots of energy and are a joy to watch. It is difficult to imagine an audience member viewing their performance and not smiling from ear to ear.
Director Leslie J.B. Hood has made smart choices that emphasize both the comedic and tenderhearted moments of the musical effectively. The choreography by Danita Wallace Scoggins is visually fun and enhances the production quite a bit. Her work is highlighted in "The Jitterbug", a great song that was cut from the film version. Musical Director Kerry Beth Bryant has prepared her cast well in the singing department. La Comedia continues its use of a synthesized (and pre-recorded) musical accompaniment, so the score is less thrilling than it would be with an orchestra (either live or pre-recorded).
The set design for The Wizard of Oz is always a challenge. This large task is handled well by Matthew J. Evans. He sticks with the use of whites, browns, and blacks for the Kansas scenes and then switches to bright colors for the Oz settings. There are many large set pieces and all are attractive and suitable for the show. Unfortunately, because of the large number of sets and the need to switch between them, there are a few instances where the scene change takes several minutes. This situation may be unavoidable, but it does detract and interrupt the flow of the musical. The special effects for the tornado are underwhelming as well, but a better alternative is not obvious. A.T. Jones has provided colorful, handsome, and professional looking costumes.
The Wizard of Oz is very satisfying in this live stage version and La Comedia has assembled a fine cast and effective production team for the musical. The show continues through September 2, 2001 and tickets can be ordered online at www.lacomedia.com or by phone at 1-800-677-9505.
-- Scott Cain