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Talent shines in Musical Theatre West’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’


William Hartery (Cowardly Lion) in Musical Theatre West's "The Wizard of Oz" (Photo by Caught in the Moment Photography)

You don’t have to go “Over the Rainbow” to experience Musical Theatre West’s (MTW) enchanting production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The heartwarming musical by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg hews closely to the 1939 film, which was based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children's book.


But it’s the talent that lights up MTW’s stage, from iconic main characters to child-actor munchkins and even a real little dog as Toto. Inventive staging of a tornado, flying witches and scary wizardry—as well as creative and colorful costuming—further add to this production’s whimsical delight.


Leianna Weaver is perfectly cast as young Dorothy Gale, capturing her character’s pigtailed earnestness while belting “Over the Rainbow” in a deeply rich voice. At home in drab Kansas, Dorothy is distraught when witch-like neighbor Almira Gulch (Erica Hanrahan) wants to put down her dog Toto.

From left: Jason Graae (Professor Marvel) and Leianna Weaver (Dorothy) in Musical Theatre West's "The Wizard of Oz" (Photo by Caught in the Moment Photography)

Auntie Em (Sarah Uriarte Berry), Uncle Henry (David Kirk Grant), and farmhands Hunk (Erik Scott Romney), Hickory (Michael James) and Zeke (William Hartery) help Dorothy navigate her emotions—until she feels compelled to run away.


Fortunately, traveling showman Professor Marvel (an expressive Jason Graae) uses clever psychology in the guise of magic to convince the girl to return home—just in time for a twister to carry the house literally over the rainbow to the land of Oz.


The spinning house—along with a cow and old woman, as in the film—are shown hurtling through the air with the aid of a semi-transparent screen and video projection, accompanied by perilous music (by Herbert Stothart, with orchestra conducted by Ryan O’Connell).

From left: Erica Hanrahan (The Wicked Witch), Sarah Uriarte Berry (Glinda, the Good Witch) and Leianna Weaver (Dorothy) in Musical Theatre West's "The Wizard of Oz" (Photo by Caught in the Moment Photography)

Munchkinland where the house lands is vividly evoked (scenic design by David Arsenault) with nearly a dozen adept youth performers in varied and colorful costumes (designed by Bradley Allen Lock). Glinda the Good Witch (Berry) magically glides down from the sky on a hoop wearing pink finery to tell Dorothy she must see the Wizard of Oz in Emerald City to get home.


The yellow-brick road leading to the fabled city appears on the stage and wends into the far distance on both a background curtain and a lighted path in the foreground surrounding the orchestra pit—all adding to the feeling of Dorothy's long journey.

From left: Erik Scott Romney (Scarecrow), Michael James (Tinman) and Leianna Weaver (Dorothy) in Musical Theatre West's "The Wizard of Oz" (Photo by Caught in the Moment Photography)

Along the way, of course, Dorothy meets new friends Scarecrow (Romney), Tinman (James) and Cowardly Lion (Hartery) in mildly menacing scenes with animated crows, trees and poppies. All three have reason to visit the Wizard as well—to get a brain, heart and courage, respectively.


Costumes really shine on Emerald City denizens as they sing “The Merry Old Land of Oz,” richly attired in green colors with varying patterns. The green-faced Wicked Witch’s (Hanrahan) army of Flying Monkeys are also striking, as is her red lair adorned with a cauldron and giant spider.

Foreground, from left: Erica Hanrahan (The Wicked Witch) and Leianna Weaver (Dorothy) in Musical Theatre West's "The Wizard of Oz" (Photo by Caught in the Moment Photography)

And the powerful wizard (Graae) is forebodingly conjured by a large mask, lighting (designed by Paul Black) and smoke effects as he warns away Dorothy and her friends. It won’t be that easy to get their wishes.


Throughout the intimidating spectacle, our curly-haired Lion not only taps his latent bravery but offers laugh-out-loud humor expressing fear and timidity. Hartery has perfect timing in delivering these one-liners with feeling.

Ensemble cast of Musical Theatre West's "The Wizard of Oz" (Photo by Caught in the Moment Photography)

The faithfulness with which each scene of “The Wizard of Oz” parallels the film keeps the story safely familiar but without any real surprises. Nevertheless, MTW’s richly staged and well-paced production (as directed by Paige Price) is deliciously infused with talented singing and acting, enjoyable humor and beautiful scenery and costumes. "Somewhere over the rainbow" is way closer than you might think.


Musical Theatre West’s “The Wizard of Oz” continues through July 23 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach, 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach, with shows Thursday, July 13, at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. (and 6:00 p.m. on July 16). Ticket prices start at $20 and can be purchased by calling the MTW box office at (562) 856-1999 or visiting Musical.org. Run time is 2 hours 30 minutes, including intermission.




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