BWW Reviews: CCT's THE WIZARD OF OZ Pays Homage to Iconic Film
From the moment you hear the first iconic strains of Arlen and Harburg's OZ score, you know you're not in Kansas anymore. Under the musical direction of Jeff Hamm, the score of Columbus Children's Theatre's current production of THE WIZARD OF OZ rarely sounded so good. The orchestra is balanced and well-equipped to handle the nostalgic nuances necessary when an audience knows every note by heart. Fear not, they never miss a beat. Indeed, every moment of the show is meant to stir a nostalgic memory of the 1939 MGM film.
Emily Cipriani opens the show with a thoughtful, mature, and gorgeous "Somewhere Over The Rainbow". You can almost hear the audience sigh as they realize their beloved "Dorothy Gale" is in expert hands. Cipriani delivers and again. Amy Anderson impressively channels the spirit of Margaret Hamilton in her role of "Wicked Witch of the West". The cackle, the gestures, and the line delivery are all Hamilton and the audience feels oddly comfortable with her level of wickedness. Several children around me would prepare to cover their ears in advance of what they knew was a terrifying cackle to come. What a wonderful testament to Anderson's tremendous performance! James Putnam (Scarecrow), Chris Rusen (Tin Man), and Kyle Snyder (Cowardly Lion) all give worthy performances with Rusen as a vocal standout and Putnam's warm approach to Scarecrow a welcome change. This was a production of stand out performances and none more surprising and welcoming that George Bailey as "Uncle Henry/Emerald City Guard". Bailey's performance is hilarious without being scene-stealing in any way. His comedic chops are well honed and the show was always stronger when he was on stage. Same can be said of Erica Whipps as "Nikko, the monkey". In a role that could be dismissed and forgotten, Whipps makes the most of zero dialogue (well, of the human kind anyway) and runs away with her scenes. It is that kind of commitment that elevates shows to the next level. Besides "Rainbow", outstanding numbers included Putnam's "If I Only Had A Brain", and the well-choreographed "Jitterbug".
Direction and scenic design was hit-or-miss. There were beautiful pieces (the farmhouse, witch's castle) and wonderful staging and design moments (the Wizard projection worked extremely well, Glinda's WICKED-inspired bubble entrance) but far too many blackouts forced the show to a halt far too often. It would have been wonderful to utilize the very capable cast to choreograph seamless scenic changes to avoid those blackouts. In addition, the grand curtain of the Lincoln stage was used more often than necessary as backdrops for scenes.
Despite a few minor microphone issues, the orchestra/cast balance was largely great. The Lincoln Theater (in Columbus' King-Lincoln district) is simply gorgeous and OZ felt equally "big" and "intimate" in this beautiful theater. Columbus Children's Theater continues to impress season after season and THE WIZARD OF OZ did exactly what it set out to do - enchant new children to the wonders of OZ and sweep their parents back to a time when OZ was an annual television event. Either way, CCT's production is an excellent evening of theater.