Following the Yellow Brick Road to Theatre By The Sea

wizardAs a little girl, I can remember how I felt sitting with my mother watching Dorothy and her loyal friends travel the yellow brick road. It is a memory I will forever cherish. Having the opportunity to see a staged version of it with my 4-year-old brought me pure excitement and anticipation of sharing the same sweet experience.

Theatre by the Sea’s version of The Wizard of Oz is a marvelous imitation of the 1939 MGM film. It was as if the characters jumped off the silver screen onto stage, with minimal detours.

The cast, led by the endearing Devon Perry, is bursting with all the bewitching characteristics needed for any successful Oz production. I found the lighting design by Jose Santiago a character of its own in its ability to communicate the contrast between sepia-toned Kansas and the luminous Oz.

Perry, with her almost Garland-like voice, presents a spunky Dorothy and succeeds in charming the audience as Dorothy should. Unfortunately for Perry, her performance is rivaled by one of her co-stars, Toto – a rescue dog that seems to have been trained to steal her scenes. Toto, played by the Cairn Terrier named Dusty, produced many audible “awws” and giggles that could be heard throughout the theater, especially by my daughter. Dusty almost seemed to be smiling during Perry’s lullaby of “Somewhere of the Rainbow.” Yes, Devon Perry sounded that good.

The crowd-pleasing trio of Stephen Petrivich (Scarecrow), Danny Rothman (Tinman) and Richard E. Waits (Cowardly Lion) are well-suited to their roles. Petrivich plays the Scarecrow with great physicality and finesse. Rothman’s interpretation of the Tinman lacks no heart. In fact his singing voice is clearly full of heart and was extremely swoon-worthy. The “king” of laughter however, was Waits. His presence as the Cowardly Lion conquered the stage. “If I Were the King of the Forest,” had the audience cheering with delight.

Many families were in the audience and the pulse of the theater seemed pretty steady. Of course the booming effects used during the Wicked Witch and Wizard’s scenes were startling, but Maria Day’s performance was not incredibly harrowing for young audience members. Day brought a slightly different and more appealing interpretation of the Wicked Witch. Her restraint on the traditional cackling, over-the-top and overdone witch was truly interesting to watch. Her curb on the melodrama made the Wicked Witch seem actually — well — wicked.

Excitingly enough, local children were highlighted as the Munchkins. Their performances were a great testament to the talent in Rhode Island, especially Calista Aguinaldo’s adorable and crisp portrayal of the Munchkin Coroner. The ensemble really brought the show together. Each member helped audience members further believe in Dorothy’s whimsical adventure, especially the Poppy and Emerald City dancers. However, there were some ensemble standouts.

One such standout comes from Tom Roberts, Uncle Henry and the Emerald City Gatekeeper, who delivers a Steve Martin-esque performance. I just couldn’t stop smiling when he was on stage. Another notable performance was Rochelle Smith’s Glinda. Smith’s Good Witch of the North has a voice like Kristin Chenoweth; its sunny excellence made you realize how Glinda flutters.

The special effects used through the show brought on the spectacle, particularly the use of a projection system that shone some scenes in front of the audience so well that those part of the production felt almost like an IMAX film. Moments like Dorothy’s transportation to Oz are cleverly brought to life before your eyes. Stephanie Harrop’s makeup design was also a hit; I am always concerned about the Wicked Witch in Oz productions appearing wicked neon green, but Harrop’s design is as an authentic portrayal of the characters. Marc Kimelman’s choreography brings the show into the audience. It is also remarkable that the Munchkins’ dance sequence seemed extremely challenging for young actors, yet their dancing was as poised as all of the dance scenes, evidence of great choreography. There are too many rousing tidbits to share, but I don’t want to spoil all the enchantments. The direction given by Billy Sprague Jr. and the music directed by Esther Zabinski created a masterful and magical performance for the young and young at heart.

It was wonderful to venture down the yellow brick road once again, this time with my daughter. We made a memory that will be forever cherished and since the performance my daughter refuses to take off her Dorothy costume. She also calls me Glinda now. I guess that is better than being known as the Wicked Witch.

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