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“A Small Fire” Smolders at Falcon Theatre

Review by Laurel Humes of A Small Fire: Falcon Theatre

A family’s life unravels in A Small Fire, now at Falcon Theatre.

The play literally begins with a small stovetop fire. That’s when Emily discovers she has lost her sense of smell, unable to smell the dishcloth smoldering on the burner.

She shrugs it off. As portrayed by Kristy Rucker, Emily is a hard-driving owner of a construction company, both barking orders and showing sincere friendship to her manager, Billy (Evan Blanton).

Anyway, Emily’s got no time for this malady. She and husband John (Terry Gosdin) are planning daughter Jenny’s (Victoria Hawley) wedding. Even though Emily does not approve of the match.

But – one by one, Emily’s other senses shut down. Taste. Sight. Hearing. It happens fast within the 90-minute play, because playwright Adam Bock is not concerned with the impairments but with everyone’s reactions to them.

Rucker shines in the difficult role of Emily. Her expressive face shares all her emotions with us: fear, frustration, anger, hopelessness. In the end, she is almost totally isolated.

Gosdin’s mild-mannered John at first comes off as nearly milquetoast pitted against his forceful wife. But he stays devoted, continuing to put her needs ahead of his own. He stays even when her words hurt. “I didn’t love you, but I do now,” says Emily, now dependent on him.

Hawley performs well the difficult role of daughter Jenny. She helps us empathize with her always problematic relationship with her mother. But in the end, she flees. “It’s just too sad,” she tells her father.

Blanton’s Billy provides some much-needed comic relief, and a philosophical tone, too. “This can be a disaster or an opportunity, a chance to change stuff,” he tells John.

I was frustrated with this play. I simply could not suspend my disbelief. There is no explanation for Emily’s condition, no therapists, no one teaching her braille.

What’s left for audience members to ponder, then, is: What if this happened to me? A hard question, and we may not like the answers.

A Small Fire, directed by Ted J. Weil, continues Thursdays-Saturdays through Dec. 1 at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. Tickets are available at 513-479-6783 or athttp://falcontheater.net.

CSC’s “Twelfth Night” Features the Good, the Bard, and Nothing Ugly

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of Twelfth Night: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Caitlyn McWethy and Abby Lee in “Twelfth Night”

“Westward Ho!” The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company takes Viola’s quote from Twelfth Night at its word when it envisions one of Shakespeare’s most well-known and beloved comedies in 1850’s San Francisco. CSC has certainly had its share of clever period staging of Shakespeare’s plays, but perhaps never so effectively and hysterically as this one (I’ll admit, though, steam punk Titus Andronicus was hard to beat). And lest you think that the bard’s immortal words hardly fit the twang of the western forty-niner, consider that when Yosemite Sam calls someone a “lily-livered varmint” in the cartoons, his words come directly from Macbeth and Elizabethan idiom.

One of CSC’s greatest strengths is the depth and energy of its ensemble and never is that more evident than in the current production–there is not a weak link in the cast. To give a summary of the plot and do justice to all the performers is no easy task, but here goes: Viola (Caitlyn McWethy) is shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother, Sebastian, whom she believes is drowned. Dressed as a man for protection, she becomes the servant of Duke (Mayor?) Orsino (William Oliver Watkins) and awkwardly falls in love with him. Watkins plays the straight-man, for the most part, while McWethy effectively slips between a bewildered fish-out-of-water and a romantic idealist; a brilliantly staged musical interlude perfectly sets up their affection for one another. Meanwhile, Orsino is infatuated with the apparently man-renouncing Olivia (Abby Lee), and uses Viola as a go-between, whom Olivia falls in love with in her male guise. Viola’s brother (Patrick Earl Phillips) arrives, dressed in the same clothes, meets Olivia himself and is mistaken for his sister and–well, you get the picture. Lee is perfectly cast as Olivia, a difficult role which she fills with both wit and winsomeness.

Meanwhile, Olivia’s household adds the subplot and the broader humor. Her maid, Maria (Jennifer Joplin) and drunken cousin, Toby Belch (Billy Chace) scheme against her officious steward, Malvolio (Barry Mulholland) along with her fool Feste (Paul Riopelle), Belch’s cowardly friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Geoffrey Warren Barnes II), and Fabian (Jeremy Dubin) who in this version plays the bartender. This troupe plays up the comedy with exaggerated, physical humor, which flawlessly merges with the western scenario. The cast is rounded out by the ever-radiant Miranda McGee, who plays a saloon wench and later Sebastian’s friend and wanted outlaw, Antonia.

The comedy in this production is imbued with impeccable timing by director Austin Tichenor, who makes sure the audience misses none of the jokes despite the Shakespearian innuendo. His Twelfth Night is filled with all the fun trappings you would expect from a Western comedy, including the inevitable bar fight staged by CSC regular Justin McCombs (who otherwise gets a rest after his grueling turn in last month’s 1984). Here and there you will find nods to more contemporary sensibilities (I loved Viola’s and Sebastian’s occasional valley-girl “Wha-at? followed seamlessly with the rest of the line). There is country music and dancing (composed by Cary Davenport and choreographed by Darnell Pierre Benjamin) performed by a pop-up band (literally) including guitar, banjo, mandolin, washboard and harmonica (Davenport, Josh Katawick, and Sylvester Little, Jr, abetted by others in the cast). The set, by Vince Salpietro, is an inviting one to the audience, in more ways than one, as the Western saloon (aptly named “Just Shots”) becomes a working bar for theatre patrons before the show and during intermission, while the action on the thrust stage keeps the audience engaged. Finally, the costumes by Clara Jean Kelly were colorful, eye-catching and multilayered down to every hoop skirt and vest.

It is productions like these that I always find so emotionally rewarding, reminding me that Shakespeare’s wit, creativity and inspirational vision truly transcend any period or generation. I overheard one patron as he was leaving say, “I am usually a bit of a purist, but this worked”. Whether you are a Shakespearian purist who hangs on every Elizabethan word, or a newcomer to the bard who has never seen a Shakespeare play and is afraid of understanding all this old-fashioned language, this is a performance you will enjoy and treasure. So come on down to the Otto M. Budig theatre and have yourself a hootin’ and hollerin’ hootenanny of a good time.

Twelfth Night runs through December 8th; tickets can be purchased online at www.cincyshakes.com.

 

 

CCM Cast Show They’ve Learned Their Lessons Well in “Godspell”

Review by Liz Eichler of “Godspell”: CCM Musical Theatre

CCM’s “Godspell” is everything you’d want and expect from one of the country’s leading musical theatre programs. There is an abundance of energy, talent, great voices and dancing, and a richness of ensemble interaction that makes you leave the performance with not only joy for the message but joy for the school, too.

Director Katie Johannigman has modernized one of my childhood favorites and it works. The concept begins in a regimented Catholic school playground, where the high school kids are showing signs that the old ways don’t mix with their new spirit and questions about life and laws. A new “teacher” comes along who grabs their attention by allowing them the freedom to be themselves while living in community with others, explaining life’s laws in a language they can understand and own. AKA, Jesus joins the apostles, and teaches and empowers them to spread the Word. Word = Love.

Everyone in the ensemble gets a song or moment to shine. Alphabetically (well, it does start in a school!) Bryce Baxter owns the audience in “Turn Back, O Man” and Jack Brewer delivers a moving “All Good Gifts.” John Collins has fun with “We Beseech Thee” and has a a lot of great voices. Delaney Guyer brings the necessary quiet sweetness to “Day by Day” but can also go big in the parables. Jenny Mollet nailed “O Bless the Lord, My Soul” which is one of the most powerful numbers. Dylan Mulvaney has such an expressive face, awesome moves, and a great “Light of the World,” putting the exclamation point at the end of the first Act. Camila Paquet reaches hearts in “By My Side” and Madelaine Vandenberg helps us “Learn Your Lessons Well.” Madison Adams Hagler (John the Baptist/Judas) can juggle both roles, and has a mischievous smile that draws your eye and empathy, underlining that the real antagonist is society. Finally, Madison Deadman is a Jesus full of love, fun, and yet ultimately does the Father’s bidding, with a powerful voice, great moves, and commanding presence, shining bright throughout.

The set (CCM student Joshua E. Gallagher), costumes (CCM student Rachel Boylan) are simple and perfect for 2018. The set is the stone façade of St. Matthews School, under renovation, which provides the scaffolding the students use throughout. The clothing starts in uniforms, but then segue into Bohemian, quirky, a little goth, and personal, including an homage to an infamous green coat and the iconic Superman logo. Kudos. The lighting (CCM student Frank J. Viskup) is rock-concert active, effective, colorful, moody, and powerful. Steven Goers (musical director) turns it up to 11, guiding some beautiful vocals in many songs, including “By the Willows.” Johannigman also provides lively choreography expertly executed by the performers and exceeded expectations in “All for the Best.”

The show is barely 2 hours with an intermission (when the audience is invited to chalk up the playground) and it left me wanting more, wishing for a few more beats to savor the melancholy moments and feel more impact.

The next studio musical will be “Yeast Nation,” an area premiere by the creators of “Urinetown,”  April 25-27. Free tickets will be available starting April 1. Visit the CCM Box Office or call 513-556-4183 to reserve. Limit two tickets per order.

The Carnegie Boots Up for a Fantasy Rom-Com of Epic Proportions.

Review  by Willie Caldwell of Love and Warcraft: Carnegie Theatre

At its heart, Love and Warcraft is a story about connections. More so, it’s a story about managing connections in a digital age. Written by Madhuri Shekar, Love and Warcraft is a modern-day romantic comedy that chronicles the lives of a group of college students as they navigate sex, lust, love, and video games.

For those who aren’t familiar with World of Warcraft, the popular online multiplayer game is produced by Activision Blizzard and has a total of 5.5 million active subscribers. Players enter a digital fantasy world where they create mythical avatars and go on quests to save the universe. The standard tropes of the fantasy genre all come into play as characters can play as orcs, elves, wizards, and barbarians. Think Dungeons & Dragons for the digital age.

Evie, played by Katie Mitchell, struggles to create meaningful relationships in the real world. Instead, she escapes to the fantasy world of Azeroth where she conducts guild raids with her digital, long-distance, boyfriend Ryan, played by Tony Kessen. Evie moonlights as a freelance relationship writer before falling for one of her new clients Raul, played by Rhys Boatwright. This new twist of unrequited love sees Evie struggling to make sense of her feelings as well as her topsy-turvy libido all while balancing her real life with her digital one. The cast of characters is rounded out by the sexually driven Kitty, played by Liz Carman, who brings an over-the-top style and a bawdy sense of empowerment. All is fair in love and war, or in this case, all is fair in love and Warcraft.

There are several instances where the actors lean into stereotypes for comedic effect but end up falling a little flat. Despite this, there are fun moments throughout the piece that keep the audience chuckling and along for the ride. This is especially clear in the second act when the audience is transported into the game and we see the actors as their avatars battling a Cthulhu’esque monster. Giant cardboard weapons and cheesy magic sound effects make for a fun romp through the fantasy world of Azaroth as the play adventures towards its climax.

The whole production has a bit of a camp element to it while still allowing the actors to explore subtle ways in which their characters connect with each other. The production is laced with innuendo as well as adult themes and adult language and is intended for mature audiences. The Carnegie is featuring a specialty cocktail called the “Night Elf” which might be the perfect potion to get you into the adventuring spirit. With a run time of a little over two hours including intermission, we recommend more than one.

Love and Warcraft runs November 3-18 at The Carnege, 1028 Scott Boulevard, Covington, KY 41011. Tickets are available online at www.thecarnegie.com or by calling the box office at 859-957-1940.

 

 

 

Say WOW to Love in Carnegie’s “In Love and Warcraft”

Review by Jack Crumley of In Love and Warcraft: Carnegie Theatre

It’s November and that means that Cuffing Season is upon us, and theatre-goers in Covington have a romantic option for the next few weeks with the Carnegie’s production of In Love and Warcraft. I should explain: Cuffing Season is when single people couple up for the chillier months of the year. It’s a combination of the pressure to be in a relationship during the holidays and also not be alone when the weather turns gloomy and cold. Fittingly, the Carnegie is offering a story of awkward love in the digital age.

In Love and Warcraft is a 2014 play written by Madhuri Shekar, earning her an Alliance/Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Award. It tells the story of Evie Malone, a 20-something college student with two main activities: playing the massively popular, massive multiplayer online role playing game, World of Warcraft, and also taking gigs where she helps couples get back together. She writes letters, sends text messages, crafts Facebook posts (whatever is best for the client) as the offending party to apologize, say something deep and romantic, and keep the relationship going. The irony with this laptop-toting Cyrano de Bergerac is that she keeps her online boyfriend at arm’s length, she’s never had sex, and she’s pretty freaked out at the prospect of it, actually. Evie thrives in her online guild going on quests and killing monsters, but any kind of real life relationship that goes much beyond hand-holding is a big issue. Evie’s best friend, Kitty, has no such hang-ups about physical contact and loudly complains when she goes for too many hours without hooking up with whichever guy she’s seeing at the moment. The tension of the play kicks in when Evie falls in love with one of her clients, Raul. The two are dating for several weeks over the course of the show, and they struggle with Evie’s lack of biological urges and her desire to keep her computer avatar in top fighting shape. It all leads to some drunken decisions followed by a big gesture to try to repair what’s been fractured.

In Love and Warcraft is a very cleverly written play, and the Carnegie production plays up the ridiculousness of the characters’ relationships and just dating in general. Katie Mitchell plays Evie as a young woman who commands confidence in coordinating an attack on a den of trolls, but who literally falls out of her chair when a guy starts flirting with her. She’s twitchy and nervous, and almost always uncomfortable. Katie is new to The Carnegie stage, and her energy level as Evie never falters.

I last saw Liz Carman as several characters in Motherhood Out Loud this past spring. Carman really brings it with Kitty. Over-the-top over-sexed in the best way. An excellent contrast to Katie’s Evie. I’m not sure if it was in the script, but I don’t think there’s any scene where Kitty actually has her shoes on. It’s a cool little character bit that I think communicates a lot without any dialogue.

Rhys Boatwright plays Raul, a character with a dramatic name who stays relatively chill for much of the show. He and Evie get into some arguments, but he brings a level-headedness to the show that helps balance out the higher energy of the rest of the cast.

Tony Kessen as Ryan, Evie’s barely there online boyfriend, is as frustrated as you would expect a guy who’s being dumped to be.

There are two other actors I want to recognize: Royce Louden and Kaitlin McCulloch play a handful of characters over the course of the show. Often, they’re some random couple who happen to be in the same place as the main cast, but every time they’re on stage, they might be having a more enjoyable time than anyone else. Because their characters are so incidental, they can cut loose in ways the rest of the cast can’t/doesn’t. The truly supporting characters they play really give the show a fun flavor.

The cast also works to help change the sets in between scenes, and often there are little character moments–a high five or a drunken stumble–on the nearly dark stage before the next scene formally begins. It’s a great way to keep the audience’s interest.

That set the cast helped rearrange is for the most part just different combinations of a couch, a table, some chairs, and sometimes a coffee bar. It’s very straightforward for Carnegie’s small stage, and just the different placement of the furniture easily communicated whether the scene was taking place in an apartment or a club.

The other part of the production I have to praise is the big scene near the end that takes place actually in the World of Warcraft. The stage is bathed in green light and dry ice smoke, the actors are wearing the colorful costumes of computer characters, the sound effects of their axe swings and sword stabs are spot-on, and it’s an overall outstanding climax to the story.

Because so many of the characters are amped up to such high energy levels, the only thing I wanted more of was subtlety. Having less intense, more thoughtful moments makes appreciating the big swings that much better. That being said, I feel like the tone of this production is a conscious choice between Director Maggie Perrino and the cast. They commit to it fully, and I respect that.

Even though video games play a substantial role in In Love and Warcraft, audiences should know this isn’t a show for kids. Sex and sexual dialogue are a big part of this play along with a healthy amount of casual swearing.

Whether you’re in a relationship or a guild, or maybe you’re just “cuffing up” for the next few months, In Love and Warcraft is a unique, timely love story that’s playing at the Carnegie in Covington on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons through November 18, 2018. Tickets are available here.

Human Race Welcomes “An Act of God”

Review by Liz Eichler of “An Act of God”: Human Race Theatre

Sara Macke in “An Act of God”

“An Act of God,” produced by Human Race Theatre and playing through November 18, will provide smiles, chuckles, and laughs as God delivers a more modern version of the Ten Commandments. It is a stand-up routine, except SHE is delivering it from a lovely cloud-like couch.

The show was on Broadway in 2015, starring Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory), and later Sean Hayes (Will and Grace). So when director Kevin Moore cast Sara Macke in the same role, he clearly moved the show in a different direction. Sara is well known in Cincinnati theatre circles and has performed for Human Race, recently in “Family Ties.” She is a strong, funny, and powerful redhead who can both command the stage and be an Everywoman. Here, she cajoles the audience to smile, laugh, and ultimately think—as these new commandments are addressed one by one.  Some of them are incredibly witty, and even the ones that may be new ideas to the audience, are delivered with charm and certainty that they may cause you to ruminate on them, and even have a drive-home discussion about the original Ten (which is always good!) Despite the clever premise, the script by Daily Show writer David Javerbaum is uneven, and many of the conceits and gags are not new. But Macke is winning, due to both her charm and over-the-top delivery.

Macke is supported by HRT regular Scott Stoney and Joshua Levine as angels Gabriel and Michael, who interact with the audience, but otherwise have little to do in this script. The lighting (John Rensel) is colorful, the set (Eric Moore) with clean and simple lines, and lovely, fluffy clouds. Special kudos to some heavenly props by Heather Powell, and effective angel wings from costumer Ayn Kaethchen.

Human Race is one of my favorite theatres, with lots of audience engagement opportunities, and this one caught my eye: the “While We’re on the Subject” discussion with the cast and Marianist Brother Alex Tuss of Mount St. John. That is after the November 11 matinee—but check out the humanracetheatre.org website for tickets and all the special added extras they have for their shows.

A Great, Family-Friendly “Oz” is just ‘Soooooomewheeeeeere Ooooover on Glenway’

Review by Jack Crumley of The Wizard of Oz: Covedale Center for the Performing Arts

It’s difficult to think of a show that would attract an audience more wide-ranging in age than The Wizard of Oz. Sunday’s matinee at Covedale was a very full house, and I think seniors had the majority. But I can’t think of another performance I’ve seen there that had as many children in attendance as this one. No matter the age, they saw a really well-put-together show that paid tremendous attention to detail.

Director Bob Brunner has put on stage a colorful, lively production of a movie that was a technological, special effects marvel for its time. This show has all the characters you love, and all the songs you know (and then some). It’s a spot-on, faithful adaptation with a band (led by Ron Attreau) in the pit that hits all of the musical cues you remember from the movie: from the driving melody that accompanies the Wicked Witch of the West, to the familiar chorus of “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”

The actors really thrive in their roles. I want to start with special praise for the ensemble. This isn’t an excessively large group of people to play the munchkins, crows, trees, poppies, and the citizens of Oz. Eight young adults and teens cover all those parts (along with four very talented younger girls in the child ensemble), and they do it with aplomb. There’s no such thing as subtlety in Munchkinland or Oz, nor should there be. There was never a time when those ensemble actors weren’t watching, reacting, or smiling. They were all enthusiastic to the point of cartoonish excitement, and I mean that as high praise. That level of commitment is what a show like Oz needs.

Their job is made easier, I would say, by the energy the main cast brings to their roles. Ally Davis plays Dorothy as the wide-eyed farm girl who just wants to go home, but is willing to help the strangers she meets along the way. Davis had a couple mild pitch problems as she stood on the front porch and sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” but once the show got going, there wasn’t a sour note. Davis is as friendly and forthright as Dorothy Gale from Kansas should be.

I last saw Chris Logan Carter as Dr Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein. At that time, I was very impressed with the way he handled songs with a lot of fast-talking lyrics. This time, as Scarecrow, he brings a great physicality to his songs and dialogue. Carter’s movements–whether he’s stumble-dancing or jumping up and down–have a fluidity to them as though he didn’t actually have human bones and muscle under his costume.

Also bringing strong, character-based moves to the stage is Jeremiah Plessinger’s Tinman. Plessinger’s shift from playing the tough-but-fair Lt Jack Ross in A Few Good Men just a couple weeks ago, to the hollow-bodied, robot-like Tinman is remarkable. He also has a pleasant voice that he changed between playing both the Gale farmhand, Hickory, and Tinman.

Rounding out the main group is Brandon Bentley’s Cowardly Lion. I last saw him play a less-problematic Ali Hakim in Oklahoma!, and this time he plays the comedic Lion to the hilt. I think that may have also included some funny ad libs. His imposing size added a visual element to a role that’s often just about makeup. [Note: there’s no specific credit for a makeup artist in the program, but the makeup is impeccable and I have no idea how it’s put on and taken off as quickly as the show requires.] Bentley basks in his “If I Were King of the Forest” number, and the only issue I had was that his microphone occasionally cut out during the show. I don’t think I missed anything because of it, but it was distracting.

The double duty role of Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch is fiercely played by Michelle Wells, whose pitch-perfect cackle would carry to the back of the house whether she was mic’d or not. Erin Nicole Donahue is a solid Aunt Em, but she shines (quite literally) as Glinda, the good witch. Peter Cutler, also previously seen in Young Frankenstein, has excellent comedic timing for his few lines as Uncle Henry, and it’s amusing to hear such a tall guy put on a Mickey Mouse voice to play the Mayor of Munchkinland. Kyle Taylor’s triple duty role of Professor Marvel, Oz Gate Guard, and The Wizard seems exhausting, especially with the boundless exuberance and Muppet-like weirdness he brings to that Guard character. While leading the cast in the Emerald City, on a pathway between the pit and the audience, he called out a stray program someone laid there, and that was exceptionally fun to see.

As usual, Brett Bowling has put together a great set. Before the show started, the pale farmhouse and cellar doors on stage made it all appear black and white. When Dorothy arrives in Munchkinland, it’s rainbows all around with a set of Yellow Brick Road stairs that’s used to showcase different moments that would otherwise be static. Sunday’s performance had some issues with scene changes, but nothing that made the show less enjoyable. This production has a large puppet face for Oz that Taylor manipulates before he’s discovered to be a fraud. The sets combined with a healthy usage of smoke machine, and special lighting and sound cues to really sell all the fantastical elements that happen during the show: tornadoes, witch teleportation, etc. Fire is talked about in dialogue (as a threat to Scarecrow), but visually, it’s left to the audience’s imagination, and that’s ok. I understand that the risks of having an open flame on stage might not be worth it.

One more piece of technical praise is for the costumes. Caren Brady’s designs are incredibly detail-oriented and clever. Scarecrow was brilliant, I loved Tinman’s empty torso, and Glinda glittered. I think my favorite costumes were the members of the ensemble as poppies in the field. The green and red with flowing sleeves looked great.

This production is a delightful trip over the rainbow; full of song, humor, and classic characters that have stood the test of time. It’s a joy for all ages.

The Wizard of Oz runs at the Covedale Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through November 18. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa

Covedale’s “The Wizard of Oz” Gives a Fresh Take on an Old Favorite

Review by Laurel Humes of The Wizard of Oz: Covedale Theatre

The Wizard of Oz, again? YES, in a sparkling production at the Covedale Center that appeals to youngsters and oldsters alike.

Oz is a classic, of course – the original movie came out in 1939, the stage version in 1987. Children in the Covedale audience seemed delighted. Seniors (well, okay, me!) could relax into the familiar and try not to be annoying by singing along.

Admittedly, I was surprised by how fresh the show still seems, a fantasy that has not gone out of date. There are witty lines and gags that still draw laughs. The characters, each longing for something they don’t have, are still relevant.

It helps to have a great cast, and Covedale’s Oz certainly does. Just minutes into Act I we get the signature “Over the Rainbow,” sung by Ally Davis as Dorothy. Davis has a lovely, seemingly effortless vocal style. Throughout the show, she is a delightful Dorothy.

Once in the Land of Oz (the tornado, remember?), we are introduced to the large ensemble – children and adults – who will serve the whole show well. First they are Munchkins, later singing apple trees, poppies, and residents of Oz, among other characters. The ensemble doesn’t have a weak link.

Costume designer Caren Brady deserves a big shout-out here. All the costumes, but especially the ensemble, are perfect. The Munchkins light up the stage with the vibrant colors of their clothes and wigs. Later, as poppies, the clever costumes (and choreography) have great effect turning people into flowers.

On her way to see the Wizard (to get back to Kansas, remember?), Dorothy first rescues the Scarecrow from his perch. Chris Logan Carter’s physical acting is lithe and nearly gymnastic, as he learns to walk. He wants a brain from the Wizard.

How you can talk, without a brain? “I don’t know,” the Scarecrow tells Dorothy. “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking!”

Jeremiah Plessinger as the Tinman may have the most difficult role, constrained as he is by his head-to-toe metallic costume. Still, he is emotive telling his backstory from woodcutter to tinman. Plessinger has a good voice; his “If I Only Had a Heart” (backed by those singing apple trees) is very fine.

Then here comes the Cowardly Lion, a scene-stealer as played by Brandon Bentley. He’s funny and engaging, perfectly cast. The audience rewarded Bentley, deservedly, with laughs and applause.

Other commendable performances are by Erin Nicole Donahue as Aunt Em/Glinda the Good Witch and Michelle Wells as Miss Gulch/the Wicked Witch. The energetic Kyle Taylor has three roles, doing his best work as the Guard in Oz.

A highlight of the second act is “Jitterbug,” a musical number that was cut from the original movie and unfamiliar to me. Again, it was a great blend of a strong ensemble, choreography by Jeni Bayer and inventive costumes.

The Wizard of Oz, directed by Bob Brunner, runs through Nov. 18 at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.