WESTMINSTER — Special effects can delight an audience, but it's the players and their relationship to one another that captivate us.
Though the special effects were truly special in Thursday's preview of Theatre on the Hill's "The Wizard of Oz," the performances lacked something.
One wasn't really certain how Dorothy (Patty Addicks, who gave outstanding performances last summer in "Romeo and Juliet," "Something's Afoot" and "Sweet Charity") felt about the Scarecrow, played by Gary Marshall Dieter, who is making his Theatre on the Hill debut this summer.
For those who would compare this stage production with the 1939 film, directors Ira Domser and Jean Burgess offer much that reminds of the film.
Dorothy's house does fly away in the twister; theWizard, played by Joseph Cimino, does exit in a hot air balloon; theWicked Witch melts before our eyes.
But the audience (and this reviewer) most enjoyed the differences.
Lynn Sharp Spears plays the Wicked Witch of the Please see OZ, Page 25OZContinued from Page 24West delightfully. She's not green, nor dressed in black with a high-pitched laugh a la Margaret Hamilton, but her witch is sultry evil, and just as frightening.
Bill Toscano, new to Theatre on the Hill, dida Cowardly Lion based upon Bert Lahr's. But Toscano's own charismatic interpretation and facial expressions ignited audience laughter.
Steve Parsons and the technical crew give us outstanding special effects. Scott Grocki, who plays the Tin Man, has a talent for rigging what appear to be explosions in actors' hands, feet or anywhere else.
But the actors are the ones who need to make the effects real. When the Wicked Witch touched Dorothy's slippers she ignited a fire -- amarvelous moment -- but it happened so fast we didn't have a chance to experience any of her pain or surprise.
When the Scarecrow's straw arm caught fire (a catastrophic event for a scarecrow), he put itout so quickly we never had time to fear for him.
When Dorothy's house flew away in the twister, it was up and away so quickly, and Dorothy seemed so accepting of its flight, that we didn't have any timeat all to mourn her loss before she arrives in Oz.
The death of the Wicked Witch is artfully staged, with a trap door set way out in the house so her desperation is visible to all. But it happened so fast we barely got a glimpse of her face before she disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Joyce Fritz's effective costuming allows the audience to appreciate the faces of Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow.
Though I never got to appreciate Grocki's wonderful face, hidden as it was behind a silver mask, he communicated a stiffness in thejoints only frequent dousings of oil could comfort.
Lighting works well, and effectively enhances mood, especially in the Witch's Lairand in the forest.
Certain set pieces work better than others. The Witch's Lair is outstanding; however the door into Oz seemed difficult to maneuver, and the set transition from Kansas to Oz was a little rough.
Most of the show was easy to hear; however, the female voices sometimes were a bit difficult to discern, though Kathleen Day'sAunt Em was a delightful exception.
An array of children perform with marvelous energy and volume. As Munchkins, they "ooh" and "ahh" over Dorothy beautifully, and Addicks, as Dorothy, interacts with thechildren extremely well.
The children seemed totally confident atthe preview; Domser and Burgess should be proud of these young actors. They didn't miss a beat.
Nor did Toto, a dog found at the poundand trained by assistant stage manager Tom Hampton. This might have been the best-behaved dog this reviewer has seen on a stage.
All the performers do a fine job singing and playing roles most of us haveknown all our lives. Trouble spots noted at the preview performance should be cleared up as the production is fine-tuned.
Perhaps the most accurate barometer of a play are children in the audience. As wesat in the darkened theater, amid smoke and ghosts and an evil witch, I distinctly heard a young boy whisper, "Awesome!"
Theatre on the Hill will present "The Wizard of Oz" at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 10 at Alumni Hall, with matinees at 2 p.m. Aug. 3 and 10. Information: 857-2448 or 857-2599.