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Admittedly, I was surprised by how fresh the show still seems, a fantasy that has not gone out of date.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.