BWW Reviews: It's a Merry Old Time at Playhouse Merced's WIZARD OF OZ

During this cold winter season, it can be tempting to sit at home in front of the fire and watch classics like "The Wizard of Oz" play over and over again on TV. But why not get away from the TV and see the classics done a little differently this year, acted out live on stage? The community nature of Playhouse Merced's production of "The Wizard of Oz" naturally keeps it from becoming as outstanding as the Judy Garland movie (who can beat Judy Garland?), but it stands on its own with a lively cast of leading actors and a creative use of a small space.

The musical version of the movie veers away from the original in a few small spots, but for the most part, stays true to the original with the same familiar songs and plot. The one song usually added, "The Jitterbug," is alluded to, but cut from Merced's production. The story follows young Dorothy as her dreams take her over the rainbow where she and her dog, Toto, meet the brainless Scarecrow, the heartless Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion. The four take the yellow brick road to adventure and fun as they each seek what they are missing. The only way for them to succeed involves conquering the Wicked Witch of the West, who has it in for Dorothy because Dorothy has her Ruby Slippers.

Playhouse Merced's production uses one beautiful backdrop and floor painting of the country side and the yellow brick road for the entire show. Other small, but innovative sets are rolled in and out. The storm scene needed more noise, which could have been provided by the metallic sheets used to create loud noises for the Wizard of Oz. But the house still spins, minus the presence of a tornado, and cast members dressed in black run across the stage with cows and cut up banners to represent the wind. 

Glinda the Good Witch of the North comes in on top of a giant farm wheel covered in glittery materials and flowers. A hidden backstage hand moves the wheel whimsically about the stage, creating the illusion of a bubble allowing Glinda to fly about. Talking trees look like heads from the Enchanted Tiki Room held up by ensemble members holding brown fabric out to represent the body of the trees. Umbrellas with flowers sowed on represent poppies. Several puppet pieces create the mechanical face of the Wizard of Oz. 

The production also uses great sound effects for the Tin Man as he first regains his ability to move and spark effects for several of the Wicked Witch's entrances, but not all, and some entrances desperately need the spark, or at least beg for the Witch to wait for a black out before walking off stage. The merry old land of Emerald City could use a bit more spark, or terrific green to it, as well. 

But, overall, the production's sets lack little, and the same can be said for most of its costumes. The Witch could use an ugly nose and a lot more green makeup, and her costume, with its orange frills, seems a bit late for Halloween, and the Tin Man's bodice looks like an odd shaped trash can taped to half of a dog's protective collar. But the rest of the costumes are colorful and appropriate, especially Dorothy's beautiful blue dress, the Cowardly Lion's fluffy mane and the Scarecrow's costume pieced together out of hay and potato sacks. Glinda, too, boasts an extravagant, fluffy and sparkled dress, and the adorable and talented munchkins (played by children and teens from the area) have some of the most unique and creative costuming of the show.

While the supporting characters are clearly played by community actors, the leading actors provide the energetic acting and great singing needed to make the production completely unique and definitely worth attending. Austin Worden plays the flexible and loopy Scarecrow, Greg Simons plays the gentle Tin Man and Stephen Mouillesseaux plays the lovable Cowardly Lion. Mouillesseaux gives the audience a lot of laughs as he shrieks and screams and goes from his girly, coward voice to his character's attempt at a brave, roaring voice. Elyssa Alexander plays the true highlight of the musical, the young Kansas farm girl, Dorothy. Alexander has a beautiful voice and brings a fresh and youthful spirit to the role. The heart of the show owes much of its life to her energy, which stays consistently pleasant throughout the show. Joel Scott Shade provides the excellently played piano accompaniment to Alexander and her co-stars, but also provides the only major letdown of the musical, as the other nine pieces of the orchestra cannot be heard over the blatantly micro-phoned piano. 

But innovative and colorful sets, a wonderful cast and hummable tunes make Playhouse Merced's production of "The Wizard of OZ" a great family excursion, a guaranteed fun time for anyone. 


The Wizard of Oz

Now Through Dec 18

Playhouse Merced

For Tickets Call (209) 725-8587

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From This Author Harmony Wheeler

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