NSMT’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ great for kids from 8 to 80

Danielle Bowen (Dorothy), Nigel (Toto), Paul Sabala (Scarecrow), Joe Moeller (Tinman), and Lance Roberts (Lion) in North Shore Music Theatre's production of THE WIZARD OF OZ running through August 4, 2013. Photos by Paul Lyden

Danielle Bowen (Dorothy), Nigel (Toto), Paul Sabala (Scarecrow), Joe Moeller (Tinman), and Lance Roberts (Lion) in North Shore Music Theatre’s production of THE WIZARD OF OZ running through August 4, 2013. Photos by Paul Lyden

BEVERLY — Any theater planning a new production of an iconic work such as “The Wizard of Oz” faces a huge challenge.
How do you take all the elements the public has come to expect and still make the show your own?
Simple. Encourage your cast to put their own stamp on their roles, and commit to the work and expense it will take for the state-of-the-art special effects that will lift the audience out of their seats.
The North Shore Music Theatre’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” has retained all that is good about the movie and the subsequent stage version, but has enough surprises and fresh performances so that you don’t feel as if it’s a show you’ve seen many times before.
NSMT owner Bill Hanney alluded before the show to the technical wizardry involved and they include both dazzling special effects and the superb production values you’ve come to expect from NSMT.
There’s skilled choreography by director and choreographer Joel Ferrell and a very special cast, including newcomer Danielle Bowen as a charming Dorothy Gale, her voice a pure, clear, strong instrument ringing true in “Over the Rainbow.”
Donna English brings warmth to the dual roles of Aunt Em and Glinda, the Good Witch, while Laura Jordan is resolutely mean-spirited as Almira Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West.
Paul Sabala is a supple, charming Scarecrow, Joe Moeller gives acrobatic life to the Tinman and Lance Roberts as the Cowardly Lion makes the role his own; he could give personality transplants to all who have come before him. His riff on “The Lion King” is just one of his many hilarious bits he has added or adapted from the original script to very positive effect.
Veteran actor David Coffee has reached iconic status — he now gets a hand for merely setting foot on the stage — but his performance here is no surprise for those of us who have enjoyed him in many other roles other than Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.”

Laura Jordan (Wicked Witch of the West) and Paul Sabala (Scarecrow) in North Shore Music Theatre's production of THE WIZARD OF OZ running through August 4, 2013. Photos by Paul Lyden

Laura Jordan (Wicked Witch of the West) and Paul Sabala (Scarecrow) in North Shore Music Theatre’s production of THE WIZARD OF OZ running through August 4, 2013. Photos by Paul Lyden

As the wise, wizened Professor Marvel, the exasperated, excitable Gatekeeper of Oz, and then as The Wizard himself, he moves effortlessly and seamlessly between characters, always remaining the warmth and wit that mark his performances.
Special mention to the three sarcastic, caustic crows who torment The Scarecrow — Kyle Anderson, Tyler Brunsman and Kent Zimmerman — and the very animated “apple trees” — Elizabeth Broadhurst, Jessica Jaros and Katerina Papacostas.
The children’s ensemble who populate Munchkinland are also excellent, with special shout-outs to the members of both the Lullaby League and Lollipop Guild.
Even Toto is a real trooper, as portrayed by Nigel under famed animal trainer William Berloni.Then there are the creative, well-designed special effects, whether it’s Dorothy caught in the turmoil of the twister or the thundering roars of The Wizard.
No matter where you are in the audience, at some point a witch, a flying monkey, etc. will be flying right over you, almost close enough to touch. Still, don’t do it. You don’t know where that witch has been
The honor roll for those who have made “Oz” a treat for eyes and ears include Leon Rothenberg’s superb sound design that allows every sound effect, every lyric, every note of the score to be clearly heard; I liked that he had Totos’ barks emanate from different spots in the theater, giving the illusion of the dog racing around the theater.
Lighting designer Kirk Bookman and set designer Jeff Modereger turn the theater into a sea of green for the entrance into the Emerald City, and music director William Stanley’s overseeing of the score is right on the money.
Director Ferrell makes use of every square inch and corner of the “playing field,” so to speak. The action may be in front of you, beside you, or in back of you.
Bursting with wit, charm, and dazzling special effects, this “Oz” is a place any child, from 8 to 80, would be happy to visit. Indeed, any child making his first venture into live theater with this “Wizard of Oz” is a very lucky child.
The North Shore Music Theatre production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Based on the story by L. Frank Baum as adapted by Frank Gabrielson, with music and lyrics from the MGM motion picture by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Background music by Herbert Stothart. Through Aug. 4 at the North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly. http://www.nsmt.org.

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