There's an old showbiz cliché that says that you shouldn't work with kids or animals. Luckily, both contribute an enjoyable, charming quality to 3D Theatricals' gargantuan stage production of THE WIZARD OF OZ, its latest offering that performs at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton, CA through October 30. Buoyed by a familiar story, an enormous cast, and colorful set pieces snatched from a previous Madison Square Garden production, the show is an admirable undertaking that closes the OC-based theater company's 2011 season—its first complete slate in its new venue.
Based on John Kane's 1987 stage adaptation for the Royal Shakespeare Company—the same version that continues to be widely licensed for regional and school productions—this family-friendly musical concoction of L. Frank Baum's popular novel stays almost painstakingly faithful to the massively well-known 1939 MGM feature film that starred Judy Garland. From its monotone-hued Kansas setting down to the technicolor dazzle of its otherworldly Oz, this production intentionally aims to be as similar to the cherished movie musical as possible. Though the show retains all of the film's music and even most of the script, this iteration expands on the dialogue and lengthens much of the score and individual songs. Even the resurrected "Jitterbug"—a song cut from the original movie—finds new life in this stage version.
The heart of the show—its renowned tale—remains lovingly intact: restless teen dreamer Dorothy Gale (Melinda Koen), living in dustbowl-era Kansas with her Auntie Em (Diane Vincent) and Uncle Henry (Jimmy Hippenstiel), longs to leave the constriction of farm life and fly far, far away to a nicer place... perhaps somewhere over the rainbow.
Her life gets even less pleasant when cantankerous neighbor Ms. Gulch (Tamara Zook), armed with a written decree, demands that the Gale's cherished pet dog Toto be confiscated for "attacking" her. Toto, however, manages to escape from Gulch's clutches and returns to Dorothy, who then and there decides that it would be best for them to run away from home. During their aimless journey across the dirt plains, the pair happen upon the caravan of traveling magician Professor Marvel (David Allen Jones). Using slight-of-hand trickery in the guise of "fortune telling," the stranger convinces the young runaway to hurry home to her family where she's needed.
But as fate and bad timing would have it, Dorothy returns to the homestead right as a raging tornado is whipping the surrounding countryside into a whirling dust storm. Unable to descend into the family's below-ground storm bunker for safety, she rushes inside her house and gets hit by flying debris. She's out like a light. When she finally wakes (or is she still dreaming?), she notices that the tornado itself is somehow now carrying the entire house within its vortex.
Once the tornado finally comes to a stop, Dorothy discovers that the house has landed in a magically colorful world populated by short-statured munchkins. She learns from Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (Vincent, in her second role) that she has successfully freed the munchkins from slavery when her house landed on and killed the Wicked Witch of the East. This, naturally, doesn't sit well with that diseased witch's sister, the Wicked Witch of the West (Zook, again, in her second role), who vows revenge on Dorothy... and her little dog, too! Her hatred for Dorothy is exacerbated by the fact that her sister's ruby slippers somehow found themselves on Dorothy's feet.
Thus begins Dorothy's quest: to seek an audience with the Wizard of Oz, who lives in Emerald City, in the hopes that he can help her and Toto find a way back to Kansas and escape from the Wicked Witch's threats. Along the yellow brick road—the path that leads to Emerald City—she meets the brainless Scarecrow (Graham Kurtz), the heartless Tinman (Ryan Ruge), and the courage-deprived Lion (CJ Porter). She encourages each new friend to accompany her to see the Wizard to, perhaps, grant their wishes as well.
Going in, the stage show itself has an automatic caché of entertainment equity thanks to its beloved source material. And it is certainly what one does with said source material that can determine whether a show satisfies or not. Under director Shauna Markey (who also choreographed), this production does an admirable job of trying to honor the film and its many signature moments, like the sequence in Munchkinland and the introduction of each of Dorothy's companions.