Toby's Columbia brings magic of 'Wizard of Oz' to stage
By MARY JOHNSON and Special to The Baltimore Sun
Apr 22, 2012 | 12:47 PM
Everyone who has ever sat before a television or movie screen to enjoy the fantasy of "The Wizard of Oz" should plan to see how magical this family favorite becomes onstage at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia.
The production brings the beloved characters live and up-close, so that we feel we are traveling the Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy and her newfound friends, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion.
Director David James transfers this 1939 film classic — which was based on the book by L. Frank Baum — to 2012, and dazzles us with a fabulous cast and exciting special effects that include swirling tornadoes that whisk us away from Kansas. The fearsome arrival of the Wicked Witch of the West comes complete with thunderclaps, lightning flashes and billowing smoke.
In creating such magic, James is helped by the lighting skills of Jimmy Engelkemier, who adds astonishment to the tale, as does sound designer and stage manager Drew Dedrick. Together, they bring high-tech wizardry to the Wizard of Oz himself at his Emerald City headquarters.
Costume designer Samn Huffer creates a fantasy, from everyday farmers' working clothes to a gem-encrusted pink gown that beautifully adorns Glinda the Good Witch.
Munchkins' costumes are brightly colored in spectacular variety to outshine the Technicolor of the film classic's Munchkin Land. Dorothy's blue-and-white checkered pinafore costume, accessorized with sparkling ruby slippers, is perfect. The Tin Man's costume looks as if it really is made of kitchen metals, and Scarecrow is stuffed to overflowing with straw, which slips from his sleeves and pants.
The Cowardly Lion is a roaring success, his impressive mane establishing his authority, while his long tail suggests a touch of silly vulnerability that he deals with by adapting a formal look, slipping his tail through the belt-like attached tabs at his side.
Choreographer Paula Lynn creates a stunning cyclone, with her whirling dancers swirling fabric above their heads. Munchkins create charming dances as they propel themselves on hidden wheels. Dorothy and her trio of friends, in search of home, brain, heart and courage, dance happily down the road to encounter several bands of creatures creating their own lively displays.
James has assembled a dream cast, starting with Julia Lancione, who creates an innocent, optimistic, adventurous Dorothy. Lancione's Dorothy summons her own courage while bolstering her friends' confidence. Dorothy bravely confronts authority figures from Wicked Witch of West to the formidable Wizard. Lancione's singing is excellent throughout, including her heartfelt delivery of "Over the Rainbow" — Harold Arlen's classic tune, which Judy Garland made her own before it was redefined by "the Bowie Songbird," Eva Cassidy.
In addition to directing, James reprises his 1998 Helen Hayes Award-winning Scarecrow role, seeming to perfect it here. He channels the role's creator, Ray Bolger, seeming incredibly loose-limbed while stumbling about. James' Scarecrow delivers a letter-perfect version of "If I Only Had a Brain" that establishes his triple-threat status — displaying terrific pipes and executing tricky choreography while simultaneously establishing comically tender rapport with cast and audience.
Adept at conveying his Tin Man character, David Gregory moves in his own graceful, hesitant steps as if his joints are constantly in need of oil, winding down on choreographed cue. Gregory does full justice to "If I Only Had a Heart," causing us to suspect he already possesses a large one.
David Bosley-Reynolds returns to one of his favorite roles, playing the Cowardly Lion for the sixth time — and the third time at Toby's, which might mark Reynolds' greatest success at channeling Bert Lahr's ferociously funny original Lion. Reynolds gives 100 percent delivering his solos, "If I Only Had the Nerve" and "King of the Forest."
Another noteworthy performance is delivered by Heather Marie Beck as Glinda the Good Witch, who looks lovely in her sparkling pink costume and sounds equally lovely in song as she encourages the Munchkins to come out of hiding.
Tina DeSimone is deliciously nasty as mean neighbor Almira Gulch, who wants Dorothy's dog Toto taken away from her to be destroyed. DeSimone resurfaces later as the fiendishly evil Wicked Witch of the West — a role she obviously relishes as a terrifying green-faced hag whose cackle might unnerve the bravest in the audience.
A stunning performance is given by Jeffrey Shankle in at least three roles — as Professor Marvel, whom we meet in Kansas before he becomes the all-knowing Wizard of Oz, and as his zealous Guard, who protects the nearly unapproachable Wizard.