The yellow brick road leads to Claremont this month as Candlelight Pavilion delights children of all ages (and that means parents and grandparents too) with the 1987 stage adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard Of Oz, a faithful scene-by-scene recreation of the 1939 MGM movie classic.

We first meet Dorothy (Jaidyn Young) on Kansas farm where she lives with her Aunt Em (Candace Elder) and Uncle Henry (Daniel Reyes) and handymen Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke (understudy Jeffrey Ricca, Andrew Lopez, and Austin Rea) in glorious black-and-white (because that’s how MGM filmed it nearly eighty years ago).

Indeed, things would be darn near perfect (if a bit on the boring side) were it not for the teenager’s nasty old nemesis Miss Gulch (Courtney Bruce), whose threat to have Dorothy’s mischievous canine pal Toto (Annie) put down prompts Dorothy to flee, mutt in tow, until traveling magician Professor Marvel’s (Jim Skousen) “vision” of a weeping Auntie Em sends Dorothy heading back home just as a cyclone draws near.

Since it’s hard to imagine even the oldest great-grandparent not having seen Judy Garland travel to Munchkinland and beyond, it’s probably no spoiler to reveal that Dorothy soon finds herself in the Technicolor Land of Oz.

Welcomed by glamorous Good Witch Glinda (Sami Nye) and some adorable, adoring Munchkins, Dorothy soon 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.

Later, when Dorothy makes the unfortunate acquaintance of the Wicked Witch Of The West, she turns out to be the spitting image of Miss Gulch, albeit in shades of green.

Along the yellow brick road to Oz, audiences are treated to such Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg gems as “If I Only Had A Brain,” “If I Only Had a Heart,” “If I Only Had The Nerve,” “We’re Off To See The Wizard,” “Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead,” and a song that nearly ended up on the MGM cutting room floor, a little ditty known as “Over The Rainbow.”

John LaLonde directs for Candlelight with visual flair, aided in that respect by scenic designer Chuck Ketter’s fanciful, multicolored sets and dozens upon dozens of gorgeously imaginative costumes, all vibrantly lit by McLeod Benson.

Director LaLonde wisely encourages his cast to pay tribute to the MGM stars who originated their roles while adding their own individual touches to each and every part, and that includes Annie’s pooch-perfect Toto.

Real-life sixteen-year-old Young is not only just the right age to play Dorothy, the Broadway vet gives the Kansas teen a pitch-perfect blend of sweetness and spunk, and a voice that makes “Over The Rainbow” the wistful gem its writers intended it to be.

SoCal newcomer Rea follows his ebullient Marcellus in the Norris Theatre’s The Music Man with a Cowardly Lion so adorably full-of-himself, he steals just about every scene he’s in.

The charismatic, chameleon-like Ricca gives Scarecrow an infectiously goofy charm, the lanky Lopez plays Tin Man with heart, humor, and pizzazz, and recent USC grad Nye is fabulosity personified as Glinda, making each entrance in flying bubble no less.

Elder and Reyes give Aunt Em and Uncle Henry a just-right folksy charm, Emerson Boatwright takes what might be a throwaway cameo as an Oz Guard (who never travels without his box) and commits scene larceny with it, and Skousen does dynamic double duty as Professor Marvel and an initially terrifying Wizard (thanks to video FX).

As for Bruce’s deliciously, dastardly over-the-top Miss Gulch and Wicked Witch, this recent Sister Deloris Van Cartier takes the Margaret Hamilton originals and makes them unforgettably her “Fabulous, Baby!” own.

Ensemble members Boatwright, Cherrie Badajos Cruz, Elder, Max Herzfeld, Michael J. Isennock (Munchkin Mayor), John McGavin (Winkie General), Anyssa Navarro, Tina Nguyen, Katie Perry, Emily Relph, Reyes, Sergio Salinas, Beda Spindola, Micah Tangermann, and Olivia Tewksberry are song-and-dance standouts as assorted Munchkins, Ozzians, crows, apple trees, poppies, Winkies, jitterbugs, and monkeys; Lullaby Leaguers Carolina Flores, Hailey Garibay, and Clare Watts and Lollipop Guilders Benjamin Lightfoot, Venice Michal, and Brooklyn Vizcarra could not be more engaging; and all of the above execute the bright-and-bubbly choreography taught by Kim Eberhardt, with special snaps to the high-energy “Jitterbugs,” cut from the movie but restored here.

And speaking of snaps, a live-action-animated cyclone sequence that replicates MGM’s flying fences, bicycles, and cattle deserves a few of its own.

Last but not least, musical director Marius Beltran gets the entire vocalizing harmoniously to prerecorded instrumental tracks.

Katy Streeter is assistant lighting designer, lighting installed by StreetLite LLC. Sydney Dawn alternates with Young as Dorothy.

Home video may have made viewing The Wizard Of Oz as easy as the push of a button, but there’s nothing quite like seeing Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Glinda, Wicked Witch, and the Wizard himself live on stage. You don’t need to have a wizard’s powers of prognostication to predict smash hit status for Candlelight’s latest family treat.

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Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.

–Steven Stanley
June 25, 2017
Photos by Demetrius Kastantonis feature Jesse Ashton Rhodus’s Scarecrow

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