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BWW Reviews: Broadway In The Park Presents a Magical THE WIZARD OF OZ Outdoors in El Segundo Recreation Park

Now in its fourth year, Broadway In The Park presents The Wizard Of Oz at this year's summer theatre festival, August 8, 9, 10 and 11 at El Segundo Recreation Park Softball Field. Directed by Jeff Cason with Musical Director Steven Applegate and Choreographer Ann Myers, this South Bay tradition returns with a professionally-staged musical under the stars beginning at 7:30pm, with family picnics on the field starting at 6:00pm, and a live Community Pre-Show at 7:00pm showcasing performing arts groups from all over the South Bay. Over 2,000 Southern California residents attend the festival each year, and you should do your best to catch this magical and affordable production with your family.

The Wizard of Oz tells the story of Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, Dorothy and her little dog Toto, as they journey through the magical land of Oz to meet the Wizard and obtain their heart's desires. Based on the 1939 MGM movie musical, this production includes all your favorite songs and characters from the film, including "Over The Rainbow" and "We're Off To See The Wizard." The musical features a cast of 36 professional and local actors of all ages, presented with full sets, costumes brilliantly designed by Diana Mann, and spectacular lighting effects out on the baseball field. And wait until you see the "twister" scene during which a cow, houses, telephone poles, and the wicked Almira Gultch on her bicycle are carried aloft.

Performing outdoors always presents a challenge, but even the technical glitches on opening night did not distract from the magic of the production thanks in large part to the incredible four actors in the lead roles. Katie Lee lights up the stage as Dorothy with her lovely voice and expert handling of the very cute live Toto in the show. Casey Garritano is down-home farmhand Hunk and with his limber, athletic abilities, he totally brings the Scarecrow to life during "If I Only Had a Brain." Brandon Stanford is farmhand Hickory who transforms into the lovely tenor-voiced Tin Man. I really enjoyed his robotic movements during "If I Only Had a Heart" accompanied by the singing Apple Trees. And Brian Middleton entertains as farmhand Zeke and then had the audience in the palm of his paw as the lovable Cowardly Lion, especially while singing "If I Were King of the Forest." All four are incredible triple-threat actors, singers and dancers whose every number was a work of art. And just how did they get all that make-up off in time to come back out in the last scene as The Farmhands again? More theater magic!

But the one who steals the show is Krystyn Spratt as Almira Gultch and the Wicked Witch. Her evilness was so comical there was no way young children could help but laugh at her, especially with her "Here doggie, doggie" call out to Toto. Played at an over-the-top, go-for-broke level, Spratt commands the stage and the audience's full attention as soon as she appears. I almost hated to see her melt away.

Rounding out the talented leads are Lois Bourgon as Aunt Em and Glinda the Good Witch, Jack Messenger at Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz, with Todd Johnson as Uncle Henry and the riotous Emerald City Guard. The ensemble presents a variety of interesting characters including puppet Crows, Apple Trees, Winkies (the Queen's O-E-O guards), the green-clad citizens of Oz, glow in the dark jitterbugs (special kudos to lead dancing Jitterbug Isabella Olivas), a flying monkey, and the blue-clad Munchins. Everyone was having such a great time onstage, especially during the ensemble numbers which was quite a feat given the outdoor stage went up over the past weekend so the cast only had 3 days to rehearse the show on the real multi-level set with multiple scene and set piece changes.

Making this production even more special is Broadway In The Park's popular outreach program Charity Partners, where local non-profits, including El Segundo Concert Band, El Segundo High School Drama, and Ready Willing and Able - a dance program for kids with disabilities - will be featured at the festival and 10% of the gate sales will be donated to their cause. Additionally, over 300 tickets are being donated to underprivileged children and families who, because of poverty or family circumstances, wouldn't otherwise be able to afford a night out at the theatre. What a great way to give youngsters their first glimpse of the magic of live theater! Underwriting this year is provided by Gensler and ArcLight Cinemas.

Guests are invited to bring their own blankets, chairs, and picnic dinners to enjoy the festivities at the park. Evenings tend to be on the chilly side, so wear warm clothing and bring along a jacket and blanket to keep warm after the sun goes down.

Tickets are available online at www.esbroadway.com. The event takes place at El Segundo Recreation Park Softball field, located on the corner of Eucalyptus Dr. and Grand Ave. in El Segundo. Tickets are good for any one night of the festival on August 8-9-10-11 and cost $20 adults, $12 children. Gates open 6:00pm, Community Pre-Show at 7:00pm, and The Wizard Of Oz starts at 7:30pm.


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