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The Wizard of Oz: A Review

November 29, 2012

Before we begin, a word of caution. Once you have seen Globe Theatre’s production of The Wizard of Oz, be prepared to have the songs stuck in your head for an indefinite period of time.

Awoken from their slumbers, given new life for the holiday season, they will be most anxious to express themselves through endless humming, whistling, singing, and the tapping of toes.

There is no use fighting it. Go with the flow. Indulge yourself. Do exercise some restraint, however, when you are in proximity of the boss, lest the line “If I only had a brain” be misinterpreted to your disadvantage.

One more thing, and we cannot stress this enough. Kindly refrain from throwing biscuits on the stage, as it presents a considerable risk to the performers, particularly during the dance numbers.

Besides, there is no point, anyway. Toto is NOT a real dog. Toto is an actor, one Nathan Howe, who delivers the finest canine characterization to be seen ’round these parts since Joey Tremblay himself bow wow wowed Globe audiences a decade ago in Sylvia. And speaking of Joey Tremblay, let’s move on to the review, then, shall we?

In the days leading up to opening night, several members of the company mentioned in conversations independently of one another that the seed for this production was planted at the first meeting when Tremblay invited them to “play.”

The director’s invitation was extended not only to the 12 performers, triple-threats who do the acting, singing, and dancing. It was intended, as well, for the designers and technicians, who are responsible for how the show looks, sounds, and feels.

To a man and woman, they took Tremblay at his word, and to their collective credit, what blossomed from that seed is a production that will sweep you away, like a tornado, from reality to fantasy and back again, and allow you to explore and discover what unites these two worlds.    

In an age when, as parents, we structure the lives of our children so rigidly there is a danger of choking the imagination right out of them, this show is a welcomed reminder of a time when childhood wasn’t so much a schedule taped to the refrigerator door as it was a mother or father telling us, “You kids go out and play.”

We were, all of us, theatre folk back then. We wrote scripts, assembled costume pieces, gathered props, supplied sound effects. We made it up as we went along, and it was all in a day’s play.

Tremblay himself comes from such a background, and in his rendering of the classic L. Frank Baum story, adapted for the stage by John Kane on behalf of the Royal Shakespeare Company, it is evident everywhere, in everything, in everyone, and it shines through brilliantly.

“There’s no place like home” is the prevailing sentiment in The Wizard of Oz. Tremblay is going home with this show, and because he provides such a fine example, the rest of us could do worse than follow his lead.

Bretta Gerecke has created a set that resembles a playhouse, a floor that suggests chalked sidewalks, and props that are inspired by toys. The theme flows seamlessly into the costumes designed by Emma Williams.

The lighting (Wendy Greenwood) and sound (Jeremy Sauer) have a cinematic quality that proclaims, now in shouts, now in whispers, “If they can do it on the screen, we can do it on the stage.”

Arranger Allen Cole and choreographer Dayna Tekatch have tweaked the music and lyrics of Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg to add a distinct element of country hoedown without denying us the cherished sentiments we came to know and love from the 1939 film by MGM.

The movie, of course, is in the back of your mind as you watch the stage adaptation, but the fact that it goes no further than the back of your mind is a testimony to the talents of the performers.  The fact of the matter is, the film is one thing, the play is quite another.

Katie Ryerson gives us a Dorothy that is entirely believable as a wholesome symbol of innocence and idealism, a young girl taking giant strides from adolescence towards adulthood.

The witches are sensational, a mesmerizing Beth Graham cackling her way from one utterly wicked deed to another while Tess Degenstein, as Glinda, her polar opposite, induces laugh-out-loud responses to a tee hee hee prom night silliness that is, well, like, you know, hilarious, right?

Individually, Chris Bullough, Alex McCooeye, and Michael De Rose rise to the challenge of the physical performances required for Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, and together they produce the chemistry of camaraderie that is essential to the show’s success.

Dov Mickelson goes delightfully over the top as Professor Marvel, sharing the spotlight with a Wizard that is larger than life and presented through the magic of puppetry.

This production also benefits from the energy and range of Darla Biccum, Sheldon Davis, Jonelle Gunderson, and Kaitlyn Semple in their portrayals of a variety of characters, major and minor, human and creature.

The aforementioned Nathan Howe is Toto personified. Literally.

The Wizard of Oz runs from November 15 – December 30, 2012. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com

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