BWW Review: THE WIZARD OF OZ at EPAC
There's no place like home and there's no place like the Ephrata Performing Arts Center for the holiday season. EPAC sidesteps the glut of "A Christmas Carol" productions performed at community theaters this time of year, and instead, puts on Decembers shows that are big, fun, and targeted for the entire family.
This year, The Wizard of Oz get the treatment, and as expected, this show serves as better comfort food than a cup of hot cocoa and a candy cane. Sticking close to the classic movie, Oz tells the story of Dorothy Gale and her adventures with the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion, as she attempts to get back to Kansas.
Josey Terry plays Dorothy, and she channels Judy Garland effortlessly. Her voice, mannerisms, and facial expressions are on the money. She is a very skilled singer and dancer too. Her performance grounds the show.
Rick Kopecky, Zander Gawn, and Bob Checchia star as the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion respectively. Kopecky's lanky frame allows him to effortlessly flop around the stage as if he was made out of hay. Gawn's Tin Man has an expanded backstory to help the audience better understand what a Tin Man is and why he has no heart. In doing so, Gawn gains the audience's sympathy. Finally, Checchia's Cowardly Lion is energetic, loud and funny. He was easily the fan favorite among the kids in the audience.
Every good show needs a villain, and this show has one of the most iconic bad girls of all time, the Wicked Witch of the West. Play by Liz Checchia, the witch is menacing without being overly scary. This is a nice balance, especially in consideration of the youngest viewers in the crowd.
EPAC regular, John Kleimo has a great turn as both the Wizard and Professor Marvel. However, for some reason, the role of the Gate Kepper, which is also played by the same actor in the movie, was played instead by the Uncle Henry actor. This seemed an odd choice, since some of the character's lines lose their impact, and there seems to be no clear connection between the two characters, as there does for others like Mrs. Gulch and the Witch.
Kudos also to the two large chorus groups. The children chorus played the parts of the Munchkins, and the adult chorus played the part of citizens of Oz. Director and Choreographer, Irving Gonzalez, should be commended for creating and implementing dance movement for these groups that took advantage of the stage and utilized movement that was vibrant and engaging.
My favorite parts of the show were sections that strayed a bit from the movie, and emphasized creative storytelling, specifically for the stage. Excellent examples include the tornado, the Poppy girls, and the Jitterbug number.
Costumes by Kate Willman and set design by Mike Wiltraut both reflect the high production quality associated with EPAC shows. It was great to see how the dull, sepia tones of Kansas gave way to the vibrant canvas of colors within Oz in both costumes and set.
My only recommendation for this production would be the run time. The show ran for almost three hours, and for the last 20 minutes or so, some of the youngest in the audience were getting a bit squirmy. This is not a reflection on the pace of the show. Instead, I suggest adhering to a prompt start time, with minimal opening announcements, and a tighter intermission.
EPAC's The Wizard of Oz is a fun and magical production. It has something for everyone, whether it is your first time seeing it or your 50th.
Tickets, performance dates, and other information can be found at the theater's website- https://www.ephrataperformingartscenter.com/