This summer, Chesapeake Music Hall is a magical place where Dorothy dons ruby slippers and travels to the Emerald City, home of the wonderful Wizard of Oz. She's joined by a Scarecrow in search of a brain, a Tin Man who wants a heart and a Cowardly Lion lacking courage.
The CMH ensemble, it turns out, is up to the challenge of bringing new life to such a familiar tale.
"It's a fine line to walk when you put together a show that is so well-known for its movie version," director Sherry Kay Anderson said. "We have emphasized our strengths in our talented cast, and this alone has been worth the journey down the Yellow Brick Road."
Nowhere is that strength more evident than in David B. Reynolds' brilliant performance as the Cowardly Lion and farmhand Zeke. Having recently returned from a year as Daddy Warbucks in the national touring company of Annie, Reynolds hardly rests on his laurels.
He is funny, tender and timid, and highly physical in his portrayal of the Cowardly Lion. He reaches comic heights as he sings "King of the Forest" in tribute to the film's Bert Lahr.
Offstage, Reynolds has worked on several aspects of the show's production. Besides supplying costumes for the Lion and Scarecrow, Reynolds constructed the Music Hall's miniature version of the Emerald City, based on the design from the movie. He created ruby slippers for Dorothy and the Witch of the East from the original blueprints, and he made the head of Oz from chicken wire and duct tape.
In the leading role of Dorothy, Katy Smith is enchanting, combining exuberance, vulnerability and spunk with superb dance skills. Vocally she does full justice to the score, except for an "Over the Rainbow" that seems to suffer from a too-slow tempo.
In his CMH debut, David Jennings flawlessly plays Kansas farmhand Hank and the lovable Scarecrow, appearing as loose-jointed and rubber-legged as Ray Bolger in the film. When Jennings arrives on the scene as the Scarecrow he brings a palpable excitement to the stage. His pleasant singing voice should qualify him for future leading roles.
Jeff Davis plays farmhand Hickory and the Tin Man in need of perpetual oiling and a heart. The role requires superb physical coordination, including the ability to execute challenging dance routines while restricted by the costume, and the ability to convey emotions through silver, masklike makeup. Davis deftly manages all of this, while displaying comedic skill and exuding charm.
Delighted to find many children in the audience to frighten Sunday, Carol Cohen savored every nasty line as the Wicked Witch of the West. Cohen manages to be equally nasty as Dorothy's neighbor, Almira Gulch.
At the other end of the spectrum is lovely Andrea Elward as the good witch, Glinda, a comforting presence who rescues Dorothy and her friends from assorted evils. A Music Hall favorite, Elward again displays one of the best singing voices in the county, with enough vocal talent to brighten any score.
Talented song-and-dance man Joe Rose plays the roles of Professor Marvel and the Emerald City Guard, delivering a strong acting performance, although one that does not display his formidable dance abilities.
In his debut performance, David Vain stylishly plays both the Munchkinland Mayor and the fearsome Wizard.
A cast of children help to make Munchkinland a special place, and the young dancers do the same to the haunted forest in the "Jitterbug" number.
My only complaint is that I'd have liked a real dog, not a stuffed one, playing Toto. A couple of years ago Second Stage Company did a memorable version of this show with a terrier mix named Tawanda, who would have made this Oz even more enchanting.
The Wizard of Oz runs through Sept. 9, with shows Thursdays through Sundays, Wednesday matinees and two specially priced Friday afternoon performances on July 13 and Aug. 10. For information and reservations, call 410-626-7515 or 800-406-0306.