Encore’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ adds more magic to Christmas season

It’s that time of year again for magic — Santa Claus, flying reindeer, elves, and the small children who rely on them throughout their childhoods, but in Dexter there’s some other magic happening.

Magic involving witches, flying monkeys, ruby slippers and twisters that whisk young girls off to magical lands that aren’t covered in snow.

The Encore Musical Theatre’s “Wizard of Oz” is a very faithful rendition of an American classic — probably “THE” American classic and most people’s most vivid recollection of what constitutes a musical.

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It’s a fitting production given how focused the holidays are in children, because the cast of this show leans much younger than the casts of other shows that the Encore has produced through the current season and even in years past.

Maeve Donevan stars as Dorothy and leads the cast and production well given how youthful she is, although she’s been at the Encore numerous times before for productions of “Annie,” “The Sound of Music,” “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “The Music Man,” “Fiddler On The Roof,” and a few others.

Donevan would probably get a thumbs up from Judy Garland for hitting all of the notes and high-points of performing as Dorothy, both from an acting and musical standpoint.

It should be noted that Mariah Colby and Jennie Rupp perform as Dorothy during certain performances, although Donevan was my Dorothy when I saw the show last weekend.

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The children’s ensemble does a fantastic job of infusing youthful energy into “Oz,” and there’s a certain level of authenticity in their presence, due to them all being a bunch of enthusiastic children and pre-teenagers that can’t help but give the show their all. Some of them really lose themselves in their performance and just have fun.

The ensemble includes Sarah Beneteau, Sarah Grace Cattell, Michael Cicirelli, Elizabeth Colson, Colleen Davis, Olivia Goosman, Bryana Hall, Laura Koch, Natalie Krause, Emma Li, Sophie Elise Meisner, Arion Sunstrum, Avery Treglown, and Maika von Oosterhout (this list has the regular ensemble and children’s ensemble mixed together, since everyone did such a fantastic job).

The Scarecrow, Tin-Man and Lion are played by Nick Brown, Dan Morrison, and Gayle E. Martin respectively. They also double as three farmhands who work on the farm of Dorothy’s Aunt Em (Lauren Norris) and Uncle Henry (Lawrence C. Havelka.

The trio have a lot of fun playing these iconic characters as they accompany Dorothy on her journey for a way back to Kansas. Brown and Morrison have a lot of fun on stage in their roles, although Martin deserves special mention for her feisty and enthusiastic acting, which I first encountered during her performance in South Pacific. She was born to play Oz’s Cowardly Lion, it seems.

Daniel Helmer turns in a great performance as the huckster-turned-wizard, Oz The Great and Powerful, while the cast of troublesome magic-users is effectively fleshed out with Wendy Katz Hiller as the Wicket Witch of the West and Norris doubling as Glinda The Good Witch.

In particular, Hiller’s interaction with her minions is funny, since they’re played by small children in monkey suits with wings on their backs. It’s hard not to think back to “Into the Woods” and want for a little more gravitas. I personally thought there were some missing opportunities for lighting and sound effects to elevate the immersion into the story, but that’s not really what The Wizard of Oz is all about.

Probably the biggest surprise in the cast was Casey Stengel Hook, a 9-and-a-half year old “Malti-poo” dog to played Dorothy’s dog, Toto. Hook is incredibly well-behaved on stage and just goes along with all of the crazy humans dressed in silly costumes, singing, dancing and clapping as if that sort of thing is normal and happens all of the time.

This story has always been a straight-forward morality play about people seeking out good qualities and emotional resources that they possessed all along but didn’t see, because good people always underestimate themselves and often need to search for those things that they’re unsure that they have in order to realize that they were the good person they wanted to be all along.

The Encore’s production is similarly straight-forward and doesn’t put too much between the audience and this iconic tale and its equally familiar classic musical score.

If you’re looking for as much magic as possible this holiday season, consider visiting the Encore some time between right now and December 23, which is the final day of the run.

For a full list of remaining performances and details on how to acquire tickets, visit the Encore Musical Theatre’s website.

All photos courtesy of Michelle Anliker Photography.

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