It’s one of the best-known movies in the world and it’s iconic theme song is rated No. 1 on the prestigious AFI listing of top 100 movie songs — ever!
If you have to think more than one second to come up with a title, you’ve been out of touch for at least the last 61 years. That’s when it’s TV debut thrust MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz’ back into the public eye, where it has lived comfortably ever since.
So, you may ask, if it is that familiar, why would anyone want to see a local “live action” version when the DVD is close at hand.
I have no conclusive answer but one of the 300+ audience members who obviously enjoyed the South Bend Civic Theatre production which opened Friday evening in the Wilson Auditorium might have his/her own answer.
Undoubtedly among them would be the chance to see friends, neighbors, family members, etc. on stage as some pretty wild characters (and in some pretty wild costumes!).
Or maybe the opportunity to see if monkeys do fly or if a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion can really sing and dance.
Well, the SBCT show allows plenty of chances for the former and some for the latter, but whether or not curiosity is satisfied, there’s no doubt that what’s going on provides a great deal of fun for everyone, even those with no actual “Oz” connection. (I guarantee the ending never changes.)
The ability to suspend disbelief in any show, especially a familiar fantasy, depends on the commitment of the performers. Safe to say that the ages of the cast members posed no difficulty in them becoming the required residents of that Emerald City.
Everybody went green with a vengeance!
Excepting, of course, Dorothy, played with wonderfully wide-eyed honesty by Anastasia Spalding, and her companions on the Yellow Brick Road (which, incidentally, was the only thing missing — nary a brick of any color).
As her earliest road trip friend, the Scarecrow, Graham Sparks gave new meaning to taking one for the team. Slipping, and falling at the drop of … anything, he literally threw himself into the role of Dorothy’s over-stuffed, empathetic companion Tormenting the straw man are three raucous crows who jeer at his decision to ask the wizard for a brain.
Next up is the immobilized Tinman (Lincoln Weight), whose metal extremities, replacements for his human parts, have rusted in place. With his joints lubricated, he joins the trek to Oz in search of a heart. Wielding his trusty axe, creaking elbows and knees, Wright was appropriately, totteringly robotic.
Last but certainly not least is the roaring Cowardly Lion, portrayed with blustery bravado (and a definite hint of Bert Lahr) by SBCT veteran Nicholas Hidde-Halsey. Shadow boxing with not-yet-faced opponents and roaring at every moving leaf, he is the poster beast for good intention. He could have used more padding and a longer tail but his mane is a curly vision, Of course, his Ozian request is for courage.
Haunting their footsteps is — right! The Wicked Witch of the West, complete with peaked hat and dangerous broomstick. There is no doubt that Dawn Hagerty goes from grouchy Miss Gulch to gleefully evil queen with obvious relish, a cackling laugh that shakes the walls of Oz and an army of Winkies and flying monkeys to carry out her dastardly commands. She is, of course, an audience favorite!
As her opposite, Glinda the Good Witch of the North, Natalie MacRae-Waggoner doesn’t exactly float on in a bubble but there are plenty of sparkles around her at all times. She exudes calm in the Munchkin storm center and (spoiler!) is the holder of the happy ending key.
(She also is the owner of Toto, played by Copper MacRae-Waggoner, who is absolutely adorable and one of the best-behaved stage dogs ever.)
Another SBCT veteran, Cecil Eastman, segues slickly from Professor Marvel to that man behind the curtain without missing a beat — or a hot air balloon!
The stage version returns a number cut from the film, “The Jitterbug,” which is a highlight of Callie Anne Lorenz’ choreography.
The production is directed by David Case with musical direction by Roy Bronkema, with many of the cast members playing two and three roles.
And for those who really don’t know, THE song, of course, is “Over the Rainbow” which has survived in tact and on top since written by Harold Arlen and lyricist E.Y “Yip“ Harburg almost 80 years ago.
Listen to it again. It says what it takes Dorothy 2 ½ hours to realize: There really is no place like home.
THE WIZARD OF OZ plays through July 30 in the Wilson Auditorium, 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call(574)234-1112.