Sunday, July 7, 2013

Modern Mythology and Impeccable Storytelling Meet in Derby Dinner Playhouse’s Production of Oz

Paul Kerr, Tyler Bliss, Cami Glauser and Matthew Brennan
in The Wizard of Oz. Photo – Derby Dinner Playhouse.

The Wizard of Oz

Written by L. Frank Baum with book adaption by John Kane and music by Harold Arien and lyrics by E. Y. Hamburg

Directed by Lee Buckholz, with choreography by Heather Paige Folsom and musical direction by Scott Bradley

Reviewed by Brian Walker

Entire contents are copyright ©2013 Brian Walker. All rights reserved.

The story of The Wizard of Oz is so engrained in our societies’ psyche that I dare say there are very few people that don’t know it. For me, it inspires feelings of nostalgia and of being young with my entire life in front of me. Of dreaming of something bigger. Getting away from my problems and being surrounded by people that get me. I imagine it must be the same for most people, especially considering how often the story has been told and in so many incarnations. Derby Dinner Playhouse’s current production is, in short, wonderful, and this is where the gushing on just how wonderful begins.

I will admit my bias as I love the Oz mythology. I have since I was three or four and saw the 1939 film on TV for the first time. The bias is for the story though, not the vehicle presenting it. This production is dazzling and exhilarating and the perfect way to share the theatre with a young person. It took a story I love – and can be very critical of when left in the wrong hands – and made me fall in love with it in a new way. From Dorothy’s first song, the iconic “Over the Rainbow,” I was engrossed and entertained, as was the entire full house the night I saw it. After every scene the lights would go down and the audience would literally erupt with applause of love and appreciation.  

The production kept very true to the source material of the book and the film while allowing the performers to make it their own in very subtle but effective ways. There were also some very exciting technical things that happened, most notably the tornado scene and the big scary Wizard. And the Toto!  Literally (and this coming from a man very much in love with my own dog) the cutest little thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Everyone’s efforts, from the director to the designers and the music to the choreographers, came together effortlessly and with great results.

Cami Glauser as Dorothy ignites the stage with each entrance and gives this wonderful sort of Judy Garland-esque performance. She was so sincere and defiant and curious, and you could tell she was having the time of her life. She managed to indicate that original iconic performance but still made it her own – and that can’t be an easy task. All of this while holding a live dog like she was born to do it. I can’t rave enough; really, she was just perfect.

Matthew Brennan, Tyler Bliss and Paul Kerr also shine as The Scarecrow, The Tin Man and The Cowardly Lion, respectively. The men were great on their own; but once the group came together, the three of them had such perfect chemistry and played off each other really well. As with Ms. Glauser, all three of them were able to capture the iconic intonations and moments from the film while still succeeding in making their own marks on the characters. Mr. Brennan’s best moment as The Scarecrow was his last with Dorothy before she clicks her heels; the tenderness was beautiful and got me all misty when they said goodbye to each other. “I think I’ll miss you most of all.”  God, that line always gets me! Mr. Bliss’s moments with The Wizard as he receives his heart were also very tender and honest and well played. Mr. Kerr’s Cowardly Lion was just a delight. His Act II “King of the Forest” was hilarious. He plays it for the laughs, and the audience loved it.

You have to have a fabulous witch if you’re going to do The Wizard of Oz, and this production has two: Lauren Leland’s Wicked Witch was delicious and terrifying; and Jillian Prefach’s Glinda was the perfect mix of glamour and nurture. An impeccable dichotomy between the two of good and evil personified.

The ensemble is also great, playing everything from winged monkeys to munchkins to the tornado itself. Everyone was a joy to watch. They gave it their all and supported their leads effectively, setting a perfect sense of place without stealing focus or upstaging the main action. The Lolly-Pop Guild were dynamite and one of my favorite moments of the evening. The audience just loved it, and I looked around and everyone had huge grins on their faces. It was just one of many fantastic moments of the evening: The Haunted Forest scene where the flying monkeys attack, The Wicked Witch’s final demise, The March of the Winkies. All of it was so much fun to watch and inspired such an intoxicating sensation of memories and reminiscings of things past that were just lovely.

This production is a great way to turn kids onto going to the theatre and inspiring so many things that don’t have anything to do with video games or going to the pool. Plus, you’d be hard pressed to find an adult who won’t find something to be inspired by or uplifted to because of it. It’s a perfect balance of story, performance, technical – everything comes together flawlessly and it was a joy from beginning to end.  

The Wizard of Oz
July 2-August 18
Derby Dinner Playhouse     
525 Marriott Drive                                                                                                    
Clarksville, IN  47129
Tickets:  $35-44 + family night discounts on Fridays and Sundays
(812) 288-8281                                                                          

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