Embro’s Wizard of Oz: A yellow brick road paved with gold

 

The Wizard of Oz
By L. Frank Baum
Music and Lyrics of the MGM movie score by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg
Background music by Herbert Stohart
Book adaptation by John Kane from the motion picture screenplay
The Thistle Theatre at the Embro Town Hall
Directed by Laura Jean McKellar McCann
Produced by Cathy Siddall and Emily Walton
November 20 - Preview
November 22, 23, 24, 28, 29, 30, December 1 at 7:30 p.m.
November 25 and December 2 at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $20 per person, $18 per member
Tickets will be available online at www.ticketscene.ca
They can also be purchased by calling Chris and Nancy Cockle at

Tackling a movie classic that has been a global favourite – both on the silver screen and television – since the beginning of the Second World War, might seem a tad daunting, even to an established professional theatre troupe.

Just don’t tell Embro’s Thistle Theatre, an award-winning amateur company that clearly relishes the idea of taking on a challenge, no matter the size and scope.

Since 1994 the group has satisfied its creative urges, along with those of its audiences, with every manner of production from Annie, The Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof and Camelot to more dramatic fare like Wait Until Dark, The Miracle Worker and the intriguing dramedy Moonlight and Valentino.

 

Now it’s time for Thistle to apply its own unique treatment of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, the magical musical journey of Kansas-based girl Dorothy, with her dog Toto and her three odd newly-found friends, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, as they venture along the yellow brick road to the Emerald City.

Unless you’ve been living on another planet, without access to a movie theatre, television or even a library, there is little else to reveal about the basic plot that hasn’t already become part of popular culture over the past seven decades.

Yet suffice it to say, undertaking the production of such a sweeping work is a major project, requiring skill, talent, patience and a strict adherence to the old adage of keeping one’s nose to the grindstone at all times.

For gifted director Laura Jean McKellar McCann a successful production meant being able to convey a certain sense of vastness and even opulence within the physical limitations of very a small stage. She did just that.

Young Mary Loggan, ideally cast as young Dorothy, had to come to grips with the fact that any singer/actress taking on the role does so, understanding the late Judy Garland has and likely will always have permanent ownership of the name.

 

Then there’s the added reality that the American Film Institute voted the signature tune Somewhere Over the Rainbow as the greatest movie song of all time.

Not to forget the wonderful malevolence of the Wicked Witch of the West, courtesy of Margaret Hamilton; the mesmerizing unorthodox dance styling of Ray Bolger; bravado cowardice of Bert Lahr or the child-like antics of the munchkins.

With all that cinematic history firmly in place, it’s a credit to Thistle’s tireless production crew, a cast of more than 40, the director, a very capable music director Julie Pietrangelo and seemingly fearless choreographer Lara Lamour that this seasonal offering works so well.

Certainly there were the odd dialogue miscues, misplaced dance steps and occasional off-key musical moments but put that down to opening night jitters. The production will tighten up over the coming nights, in large part due to the enthusiasm and drive of all members of the company – from actors to stage management volunteers.

Loggan is delightful in the lead role, a pleasant mix of youthful innocence, wonder and gutsy determination. And as for those worried about the obvious Garland comparisons, rest assured the original Dorothy would have approved of the performance.

Elaine Northmore, both in person and on video screen, is a delightfully nasty wicked witch; with Char Hardcastle (Glenda) countering that dosage of evil with a lovely bit of saccharine niceness that ensures good will ultimately triumph over bad in the end.

 

As the Tin Man, Landon Hoare is top notch as a klinkety-klankety seeker of the heart, while Cynthia Nowak offers up a nifty little rendition of the well-meaning, blustery but ultimately failed Wizard.

Bolger would heartedly approve of Andrew Norris’ energetically loose-limbed, gangly Scarecrow, a straw-packed creation that literally bounces and pratfalls his way from scene to scene. In addition to his nimble choreographed efforts, his vocalized yearnings for a brain come off as both heartfelt and humorous.

An unexpected delight was the strong vocals from Stacey Culbert as the perpetually petrified king-of-the-beasts. With impressive comic skills and a good grasp of timing, she too would have handily secured kudos from the original Lion Bert Lahr.

It’s no small feat either for countless other cast members like April Sackrider (Aunt Em), Doug Turvey (Uncle Henry), and Susan McKone (Emerald City Guard), along with Munchkins, Jitterbug dancers and the Winkie troupe to successfully pull off multiple roles. And a hats off to the costume department for the quick seamless changes.

As an added bonus, the audience got a rare glimpse and ear-full of the Jitterbug song, one of the numbers that did not make it to the 1939 screen version. While bigger versions had the luxury of larger orchestral ensembles, this production nonetheless received topflight musicianship from pianist Angela Southern, keyboardist Sonya Turvey, bassist Steve Clark and drummer Warren McKay.

Last but certainly not least, two big paws up for Toto, thanks to the scene-stealing canine efforts of Meinkismah’s Champion Show & Companion Miniature Schnauzers Over the Rainbow and Tailyr Made for Ross.

Some minor wrinkles to be ironed out but it is a must-see theatre for the family to usher in the holiday season.

  /  4

Geoff Dale is an Oxford County theatre reviewer and freelance writer/photographer.

Photos: 1. They finally have a brain, heart and courage. Pictured from left, the Scarecrow (Andrew Norris), the Tin Man (Landon Hoare) and the Cowardly Lion (Stacey Culbert); 2. The Emerald City Guard (Susan McKone) tells Dorothy (Mary Loggan), the Tin Man (Landon Hoare), the Scarecrow (Andrew Norris) and the Cowardly Lion (Stacey Culbert) there is no way they can see the great Wizard of Oz; 3. Dorothy (Mary Loggan) with Toto in her trusty basket is confronted by the Wicked Witch of the West (Elaine Northmore) while the good witch Glinda (Char Hardcastle) looks on. Photos by Joan Veldman


The Arts Project - Theatre
Sol Clay