`Wizard' enchants at Toby's

Production: Screen-faithful performances transport delighted audience to the Merry Old Land of Oz.

Review

March 07, 2002|By William Hyder | William Hyder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A movie can't be transferred literally to the stage, but the delightful version of The Wizard of Oz playing at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia comes pretty close.

The colorful characters, favorite scenes and memorable lines of the 1939 film are all there. So are the great songs by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg: "Over the Rainbow," "We're Off to See the Wizard," "Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead," "If I Only Had a Brain" and "The Merry Old Land of Oz."

There can't be more than two or three people in the United States who haven't seen The Wizard of Oz, but we'd better go over the story anyway.

A Kansas farm girl named Dorothy is caught in a tornado, transported with her little dog Toto to a magical land and welcomed by its citizens, the Munchkins. They honor her for accidentally killing the Wicked Witch of the East, but the witch's sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, threatens revenge.

Glinda, the Witch of the North, offers Dorothy protection and gives her the magical ruby slippers worn by the dead witch. Dorothy sets out to find the great Wizard of Oz, hoping he can send her back to Kansas.

On the way, she meets a Scarecrow who is convinced that he has no brain, a Tin Woodman who lacks a heart and a Cowardly Lion who needs courage. They all go with Dorothy to seek help from the Wizard.

The rest of the action shows their efforts to get to Oz, defend themselves against the Wicked Witch and persuade the Wizard to meet their needs.

Actors like to create their own characterizations, but The Wizard of Oz is too well known and well loved for any drastic change.

The director wouldn't want kids coming out of the show complaining, "Aw, it was different!" So the cast patterns its performances closely on the movie.

David Reynolds, as the Cowardly Lion and Zeke the farmhand, does a vivid impersonation of Bert Lahr. David James (Scarecrow/Hunk), re-creating the floppy body and loose-limbed walk of Ray Bolger, really looks as if there's nothing but straw under his clothes.

Despite having to follow the pleasant but bland Jack Haley, Larry Munsey (Tin Man/Hickory) turns in a strong performance. In playing Professor Marvel and the Wizard, Robert Biedermann clearly has Frank Morgan in mind.

Judy Garland, of course, defies imitation, but AK Brink makes a fine, believable Dorothy.

As Aunt Em, Deborah Bonacorsi is down to earth and folksy; as Glinda, the Witch of the North (aided by gorgeous makeup and a long, blond wig), she is majestic and magical, with just a touch of Billie Burke's fluttery eyelashes.

In the double role of the mean Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West, Jill Shullenbarger has a harsh, taunting delivery fully equal to that of Margaret Hamilton. (By way of compensation, she gets to make her first entrance on a bicycle and later has an effective death scene.)

Finally, we pay tribute to a real trouper - Buddy, the little dog who plays Toto.

In the performance we saw, Buddy calmly endured a 2 1/2 -hour barrage of singing, dancing, shouting, sound effects and strobe lights, while being carried in a basket, taken out, handed from one actor to another and put back in. He kept his cool through all of it.

The screen Wizard is filled with special effects that can't be duplicated on a stage, but the theater has magic of its own.

Aided by the audience's imagination, the tornado in Toby's production is suggested with choreography and costumes, a farmhouse spins in the air, the diminutive Munchkins are created from full-sized performers and, in the final scene, a hot-air balloon ascends.

Praise for a splendid production goes to director Toby Orenstein, choreographer Ilona Kessell, costume designer Larry Munsey (who provided gorgeous costumes for what seemed like a cast of thousands), lighting designer Lynn Joslin and sound designer Jason Wilson.

If you're looking for an enjoyable evening of musical theater, follow the yellow brick road to Toby's.

Toby's Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia, presents "The Wizard of Oz" through June 2. Doors open at 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. Doors open at 10:30 a.m. for matinees Sunday and Wednesday. Reservations are required.

Information or reservations: 410-995-1969 or 800-888-6297.

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