Updated: Jul 12
On Stage, “Oz” Unfurls as a Hybrid of Live Theater and Cinematic Magic that will have the Squirmiest Toddlers Wonderstruck!
JULY 10, 2023 — LONG BEACH
Step into the enchanting Land of Oz, as Musical Theatre West's audiences take a walk down the yellow brick road again in L. Frank Baum's classic tale of “The Wizard of Oz,” MTW’s newest, and most fantastic summer adventure yet. Set to run through July 23rd at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center on the CSU Long Beach campus, it's a show you don’t want to miss as our four heroes encounter wicked adversaries, mischievous creatures, and even flying monkeys in a production with stunning special effects and Broadway caliber performances.
It’s been over 123 years since Baum penned “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” the first and best-known of his 15 “Oz” books. A Chicagoan when he began the children’s novel in 1899, Baum created a story of a Kansas farm girl and her wondrous adventures over the rainbow that became forever ingrained in pop culture with the 1939 musical movie version.
Musical Theatre West's iconic stage musical of "The Wizard of Oz" is an extraordinary theatre experience with a spectacular cast. Returning to the world of Oz following her role as Judy Garland in “End of The Rainbow,” Broadway’s Sarah Uriarte Berry (Brdwy: “Disney's Beauty and the Beast”) is cast as Glinda the Good Witch. And reprising his role as the man behind the curtain is Broadway favorite, Jason Graae (Broadway Nat’l Tour: “Wicked”).
Leianna Weaver (McCoy/Rigby: “Noble Family”) stars as Dorothy Gale, the Kansas girl trying to find her way back home. Joining her on the journey will be Erik Scott Romney (MTW: “Holiday Inn;” “Something Rotten”) as The Scarecrow, Michael James (“Bye Bye Birdie;” “Newsies”) as The Tinman, and William Hartery (“Disney’s The Little Mermaid;” “Oliver!”) as The Cowardly Lion.
In addition, MTW’s production features a talented youth ensemble, composed of local actors throughout Southern California. Ranging from six to fifteen years old, these youth performers bring an extra layer of charm and professional energy to the production, enhancing the overall enchantment to the classic.
Taking the helm as the director is the acclaimed Paige Price, an accomplished actress and producer known for her roles in “Ed” (2000), “All the Right Moves” (1983), and “The Equalizer” (1985). The musical director is the exceptionally talented Ryan O’Connell (“Ernest Shackleton Loves Me,” “Loch Ness”); in addition, the acclaimed dancer/choreographer Jimmy Locust takes the reins as choreographer for the show. Locust has collaborated with entertainment industry stars like Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, Quincy Jones, and Debbie Allen.
Backed by Mr. O’Connell’s flawless orchestra, the ensemble makes composer/lyricists Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg’s score featuring songs like “Yellow Brick Road,” “Ding, Dong! The Witch is Dead,” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard” sound lush and all-new.
But you know you’re in good hands early on: “Over the Rainbow” is the first tune up as Leianna Weaver obviously has mighty shoes to fill as Dorothy. But listening to her rendition, it is impossible to hear the song without thinking of Judy Garland. If you shut your eyes, you can barely tell the difference. Ms. Weaver makes it her own, and then some, with a melodic yearning that is somehow equal parts intimacy and grandeur.
Meanwhile, set designer David Arsenault’s whirling structures move with speed and ease from desolate prairie to gleaming fantasyland, and are as deftly choreographed as the performers. They unwind like a perfectly synchronized motion machine and suggest the disorientation that can come with both a momentous storm and a concussion-induced dream.
Paul Black’s Vegas-glittery lighting morphs from sunshine to cyclone in a twinkling. Bradley Allen Lock’s trippy costumes are an eyeful, and capture the different worlds of Kansas, Munchkinland and Emerald City with marvelously whimsical creations — from the eyelashes on the apple-throwing trees to the spidery appendages of the spellbinding jitterbugs — infusing the entire production with a sense of magic.
Amidst all that, the cast stands out undeniably. Farmhands Hunk (Mr. Romney), Hickory (Mr. James) and Zeke (Mr. Hartery) are double-cast as the impossibly rubber-legged Scarecrow in quest of a brain, the rusty-jointed Tin Man in search of a heart and an oil can, and the lovable Cowardly Lion, who simply yearns for some courage.
When the farmhands later appear with Dorothy on the yellow brick road, their key personalities become enlarged. Romney’s Scarecrow is kind, caring and practical. Jame’s Tin Man is a walking, talking valentine.
And as for Hartery, his portrayal of the Lion would have made the late, great Bert Lahr stand up and cheer. In the Cowardly Lion’s best number — “If I Only Had the Nerve” — Mr. Hartery sings the stuffing out of it, while pondering life's big questions. You know...conundrums like “What makes the muskrat guard his musk?” and “What puts the ‘ape’ in ‘apricot’?”
As the Wizard, and Kansas’s fast-talking, fortune-telling Professor Marvel, Jason Graae hits just the right balance of chicanery, chivalry and humbug (“You billowing bale of bovine fodder!”). On the sweeter side of town, Sarah Uriarte Berry is all radiant benevolence as the elegant, saccharine-free Glinda the Good Witch, and believably care-worn as the no-nonsense Auntie Em.
And Erica Hanrahan’s Almira Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West is more magnificently shady than the haunted forest — and has the identical cackle of Wicked Witch original film star Margaret Hamilton. Yes, Oz is a virtual melting pot of different people, personalities and styles, but Ms. Hanrahan puts a definite "Eleven O'clock" spin on the phrase in the second act. Other notables: Dennis Holland is a remarkable Uncle Henry, and David Kirk Grant plays an animated Winkie General. Plus, making his onstage debut as the iconic Toto is 12-year-old Hank, a peanut-butter-loving terrier-mix rescue dog.
And with over a dozen imaginative characters from the special effects creature shop — crows, jitterbugs, flying-monkeys, and crabby-apple trees — the atmosphere is light-hearted, whimsical and fun. The result, on all counts, is a Broadway-worthy family-friendly crowd-pleaser of epic proportions and exceptional imagination — a fairy tale that spins onto the stage with the force of a tornado, then unveils a young girl’s journey to find herself in the midst of the dreamlike world of Oz, culminating in one of the most incredibly entertaining musicals ever created.
MUSICAL THEATRE WEST, Southern California’s Premier Musical Theatre Company, PRESENTS, THE WIZARD OF OZ, Performing at CARPENTER PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, LONG BEACH. Book by L. FRANK BAUM; Music and Lyrics by HAROLD ARLEN and E.Y. HARBURG; Background Music by KERBER STOTHART; Dance and Vocal Arrangements by PETER HOWARD; Orchestrations by LARRY WILCOX; Adapted by JOHN KANE for the ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY; Based upon the Classic Motion Picture owned by TURNER ENTERTAINMENT CO., and distributed in all media by WARNER BROS.; Warner Bros. Direction by PAIGE PRICE; Music Direction by RYAN O’CONNELL; Choreography by JIMMY LOCUST; Set Design by DAVID ARSENAULT; Lighting Design by PAUL BLACK; Sound Design by JULIE FERRIN; Costume Design by BRADLEY ALLEN LOCK; Wig Design by THERESE LEVASSEUR; Makeup Design by JEANETTE KAKUSKA; Production Stage Manager BRIGHAM JOHNSON.
CAST: LEIANNA WEAVER; ERIK SCOTT ROMNEY; MICHAEL JAMES, DEDRICK BONNER, SARAH URIARTE BERRY; ERICA HANRAHAN; JASON GRAAE; DENNIS HOLLAND; DEKONTEE TUCRKILE; BRIANNA LIDDI; DAVID KIRK GRANT; TJ PUNCHARD; JACOB MATTHEWS; TALEEN SHRIKIAN; ERIN DUBREUIL; JULIA DOTY; ALLEN LUCKY WEAVER; DARRAND HALL; QUINTAN CRAIG; RACHEL BEARD; JAMES DELA CRUZ; AMELIA FISCHER; SAVANNAH FISCHER; FAITH GRAHAM; CHLOE ALYSSA HANSER; BECCA LAST; CATHERINE LAST; ELIZABETH LAST; MAISIE MAGDALEN OLIVEROS; DANIELA SOMERS.
THE WIZARD OF OZ by Musical Theatre West runs for select dates and times from July 7 — 23, 2023 at Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach, 90815. Tickets start at $20 - $135. Student rush tickets for $15 are available one hour prior to showtime, with a valid student ID. For more information and full details, please call the box office at 562-856-1999 or visit https://musical.org.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Caught in the Moment