Children of all ages (and that means parents and grandparents too) can now join Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, and Toto in following the yellow brick road to the Land Of Oz as 3-D Theatricals concludes its second season with the L. Frank Baum/MGM classic The Wizard Of Oz.

The international success of Wicked (aka “the other Oz musical”) makes the original Wiz even more of a box office draw these days, and while T.W.O.O. may lack Wicked’s powerhouse score and emotional wallop, it has one enormous plus in its favor. There’ll be hardly an audience member at Plummer Auditorium who doesn’t have childhood memories of seeing the Judy Garland blockbuster, and that means everyone from the youngest kindergartner to the oldest great-grandparent, probably still in school when MGM released The Wizard in 1939.

Perhaps the biggest thrill of attending 3-D’s terrific production is seeing the movie so lovingly and faithfully brought to stage life, scene by scene. The first 20 minutes or so are even in black and white! (Kudos to lighting designer extraordinaire Jean-Yves Tessier.)

We first meet Dorothy (Melinda Koen) on Kansas farm where she lives with her Aunt Em (Diane Vincent) and Uncle Henry (Jimmy Hippenstiel) and handymen Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke (Graham Kurtz, Ryan Ruge, and CJ Porter). There’s also Dorothy’s adorable but mischievous pooch Toto (Nigel) and Miss Gulch (Tamara Zook), the teenager’s nasty old nemesis. When Miss G. threatens to have Toto put down, Dorothy runs away, mutt in tow, and meets Professor Marvel (David Allen Jones), whose “vision” of a weeping Auntie Em sends Dorothy on her way back home until a cyclone …

You know the rest.

Before you can say “munchkin,” Dorothy is in the Technicolor Land of Oz, where everyone seems to remind Dorothy of home. Welcomed by Glinda (Vincent again), Dorothy makes the acquaintance of three incomplete souls (a Scarecrow without a brain, a Tin Man without a heart, and a Lion without courage) who happen to look just like Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke (no wonder, as they’re played by Kurtz, Ruge, and Porter). Miss Gulch is there too, only now she’s the Wicked Witch Of The West, Uncle Henry is the Winkie General, and Professor Marvel is the reputedly marvelous Wizard.

Unlike movie-to-Broadway Disney shows The Lion King and Beauty And The Beast,  the stage version of The Wizard Of Oz sticks with only those songs featured in the movie (plus the deleted “Jitterbug”), so there’s considerable less singing here than in your average musical, but every song (music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg) is sure to hold a special place in audience memories and hearts. “If I Only Had A Brain” and its reprises as “If I Only Had a Heart” and “If I Only Had The Nerve” are great showcases for the splendid trio who perform them, and Koen’s “Over The Rainbow” is sung with breathtaking simplicity. Most of The Wizard is underscored with Herbert Stothart’s memorable background music throughout its over two-and-a half-hour running time.


Director Shauna Markey knows Oz well, having appeared in the 1998 National Tour opposite Mickey Rooney and Eartha Kitt, and directed and/or choreographed numerous productions since then, including a memorable one at Musical Theatre West in 2008. Markey is a w(h)iz at managing her cast of 42, a daunting task in and of itself, and she scores additional points for encouraging her players to pay homage to the brilliant performers who starred in the movie while making the parts their own.

Zook takes the best of Margaret Hamilton and mixes in her own quirky persona for a particularly memorable Wicked Witch. Vincent makes an impressive transformation from frumpy to fabulous as Aunt Em/Glinda. Kurtz’s adorable Scarecrow appears at time truly not to have a bone in his body, Ruge plays Tin Man with heart and pizzazz, and Porter steals scenes right and left as Lion (including a mostly funny standup riff not in the movie). Jones is marvelously blustering, Hippenstiel suitably crusty, and as for Nigel, the oh-so talented pooch can expect StageSceneLA’s very first non-human Scenie Award next September. Finally, although the role of Dorothy is cast older than I would have preferred, Koen has clearly done her movie homework, her Dorothy the next best thing to the Judy Garland original.

Markey does delightful double duty as choreographer. The many children in the cast deserve special credit for being such adept dancers, and the adult ensemble get quite a workout as the “Jitterbugs,” a fun number that’s a special treat because of having been cut from the movie. There’s also the Act Two opener, “Merry Old Land Of Oz,” which comes close to matching the song and dance magic of Wicked’s “One Fine Day.”

Completing the humungous cast are adults Matthew Ballestero, Lila Bassior, Abby Bolin, Courtney Burfeind, Michael Cavinder, dance captain Jason DeRoest, Aubrey Elson, Juan Guillen (Foley), Jacob Haren, Zibby Lents, Nicole Manly, Niko Montelibano, Bryan Overmyer, Cynthia Price, Tiffany Renee Reid, and Peter Schueller, who deserve extra snaps for performing their many song-and-dance tracks masked and wigged into virtual anonymity as crows, apple trees, poppies, Winkies, jitterbugs, and monkeys.

The Munchkins are equally marvelous—Geraldine Abcede (Flower Girl), Olivia Aniceto (Baby Doll), Caitlin Ciardelli (Barrister), Kevin Ciardelli (Braggart), Emily Frazier (Mayor), Chandler Giunchini (Tootsie Tumbler), Xandra Long (Flower Girl), Hailey Mason (Flower Girl), Jude Mason (Lollipop Guild), Cami Nelson (Lullaby League), Hanna Nelson (Flower Girl), DJ Price (Lollipop Guild/Nikko), Rachel Rea (Lullaby League), Sarah Rea (Lullaby League), Griffin Runnels (Coroner), Anna Salvini (Little Doll), Benjamin Thompson (Lollipop Guild), and Lisa Zion (Barrister).

Musical director/conductor Allen Everman does his usual bang-up job, somehow or other managing to make the 3-D pit orchestra sound like fifty MGM musicians. The production’s gorgeous set/prop/costume package is provided by The Music And Theatre Company, with Gregg Barnes credited for the stunningly imaginative original costume designs and Michael Anania for the equally colorful set designs. Further kudos go out to technical director Chris Beyries, sound designer Julie Ferrin, costumer/designer Sharell Martin, wig designers Cliff and Kat Senior, and props/set decorator Terry Hanrahan. Nigel has been trained by William Berloni Theatrical Animals, Inc. Flying (and there is plenty of it!) is courtesy of Flying by FOY.! William Coiner is production stage manager and Donna R. Parsons assistant stage manager.  Kami Seymour is assistant director and assistant choreographer.  3-D Theatricals Artistic Director T.J Dawson is executive producer of The Wizard Of Oz; Daniel Dawson and Gretchen Dawson are co-producers.

Comprising the evening’s sole negative note were a number of Opening Night technical glitches, though none proved a  major distraction from the show’s entertainment value.

As 3-D Theatricals readies its exciting 2012 season, one which will include such diverse shows as The Sound Of Music, A Chorus Line, and Avenue Q, The Wizard Of Oz concludes its 2011 lineup (one it inherited when FCLO Musical Theatre cancelled its season of four shows) on a triumphant note indeed.

3-D Theatricals, Plummer Auditorium, 210 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.

–Steven Stanley
October 14, 2011
Photos: Alysa Brennan

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