The Saint John Theatre Company’s production of L. Frank Baum’s classic ‘The Wizard of Oz’, under the direction of Jennifer Mabey, opened to a nearly sold-out house, and for good reason: it may have been the best bit of theatre I’ve seen all year.
Typically, any combination involving myself and a musical is a recipe for disaster. A perfect storm. I will throw tantrums in the aisle until I’ve been discretely lead away to the lobby to be consoled with gin and tonic, and heaven help them if there aren’t any limes. It’s not that I have anything against theatre, or music, but the two together can create a flowery impediment to natural story-telling that grates on me, and I have instinctively rejected the genre as a whole. Needless to say, I have some strong feelings on the matter, and any praise is given with about as much generosity as a stone gives blood.
But ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is a classic. It’s been kicking around, in some form or another, since 1900. It survived the scrutiny of my childhood. While that means it might have its foot in the door, it also has a lot to live up to as Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man seek out the Wizard, proving themselves in their valiant effort to get Dorothy home to Kansas.
Full disclosure: there’s a special place in our hearts for Hilary Ladd (Dorothy). As our regular reviewer, a talented writer, and a gifted musician, it has always been understood that she also dabbles in theatre herself. I’ve heard Hilary perform before, mostly in my kitchen, but it hadn’t prepared me for the dose of double refined nostalgia I got with her performance of ‘Over The Rainbow’ that left me with goosebumps. She is amazing, and I cannot sing her praises enough.
The cast has been fleshed out with a talented bunch of SJTC’s regulars; in particular CC Humphries does a remarkable job in his role as Lion (as well as Zeke, but mostly Lion), taking the lion’s share of the laughs. Victor Szymanski (Tin Man/Hickory) once again reminds us he’s destined for great things, and Lindsay Bell (Almira Gulch/Wicked Witch) must have been born cackling.
Special mention should be made of both the Munchkins, and the Ozians, as well as JQ Smith who seems to have worked miracles wrangling them together as their choreographer. Also, notably, Dax Underwood (Toto), a new-comer to the stage, accomplishes his role in ways the very concept of which seem impossible to a cat owner; the seemingly inevitable disaster I expected in every scene never manifested.
‘The Wizard of Oz’ is colorful, goofy fun, and the Saint John Theatre Company pull it off in a way that sets a benchmark for personal enjoyment in a theatre production. Sold-out shows to be expected.
Saint John Theatre Company’s production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ runs from November 11th-15th, 2015. For more information visit www.saintjohntheatrecompany.com.