Follow the yellow brick road to Greenbelt Arts Center to see community theater at its warm, rollicking best. A full house (over 100 by my guesstimate) on opening night for The Wizard Of Oz was enchanted by L. Frank Baum’s story, Harold Arlen’s music, E. Y. Harburg’s lyrics, Jon Gardner’s direction, Win Britt’s production, Rickie Howie Lacewell’s and Elizabeth Gardner’s choreography. This lavish, joyous production has 23 cast members and even more people offstage “using their brains, their hearts and their courage and lots of hard work,” according to Gardner’s director’s note, to make it oodles of fun, a sheer delight.
Watch Dorothy and her ragtag pilgrim friends prance off to the Emerald City to see the Wizard, who will show Dorothy the way back home to Kansas, give Scarecrow a brain, Tinman a heart and Cowardly Lion courage. See Loraine Hamlett as Dorothy sing Over the Rainbow. She is wistful, winsome, innocent, in fine voice, a convincing dreamer. See Sarah Dallas DeFord as Scarecrow sing If I had only a Brain. She is limp, flexible, straw-stuffed, eventually brainy. See Marie Nearing as Tinman sing If I Only Had a Heart. She is metallic, well-oiled, quasirobotic and deeply touching when she says to Dorothy as she and Toto depart for Kansas, “I know I have a heart cause it’s breaking.” See Stephen P. Yednock as Cowardly Lion sing If I Only Had the Nerve. He is blustery, strutting, pure alpha male and terribly timid by turns. “I’m just a dandelion,” he confesses. Intentionally or not, Yednock channels Bert Lahr in the 1939 classic movie. Ian Blackwell Rogers is brilliant as con man Professor Chester Marvel and the smoke-blowing humbug Wizard himself. His comedic timing is pitch perfect; it’s easy to see why he garnered so many kudos as Hamlet a few years ago.
Plenty of others deserve kudos. The beautiful, melodious Courtney James is golden as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (and Aunt Em) who helps Dorothy use her magic ruby slippers to get back home. My secret favorite, though, is the delicious Wicked Witch of the West played by Julia Frank. As a practicing psychiatrist who rides her own bicycle and sails around on her own roller skates, Frank hopes she isn’t as nasty as her alter ego. I grieved to see her disappear as she wailed “I’m melting!” Jocelyn Gross is quite speechless yet quite excellent as Toto; she delivers many timely barks, has panting body language, a wagging tongue and the pleasure of outing Oz by pulling back the curtain of his smoke machine. David Robinson is gallant, even courtly as the Emerald City guard and the benign Uncle Henry. The dazzling, energetic ensemble, many of whose members play multiple roles as Munchkins, Poppies, Snowflakes, Cyclones, Winkies, Jitterbugs and Flying Monkeys, include Findley Holland, Melanie Arter, Summayah Bilal, Hannah Collins, Sophie Cooper, Elizabeth Gardner, Shawford Jackson, Snowdenn Jackson, Beatrice Marcavitch, Julia May, Miracle Omar, Felix Retterer, Samantha Roberts and Melissa Sites.
Jon Gardner’s clever set design features a triptych whose center panel is a revolving door facilitating actors’ entrances and exits, and above which a photo montage shows pre-filmed footage of the Wicked Witch. Also the gnarled, distended, threatening face of Oz gets plenty of play. It took a costume crew of seven to concoct the regalia for Jitterbugs, Flying Monkeys and more: Anne Gardner, Rebekah Sutfin, Doreen Roberts, Cheramie Jackson, Jennifer Gross, Andrea Marcavitch and Renee Cooper. After the show Jon Gardner gave a big thank you to the actors’ parents for rearing such wonderful children and for helping to design, sew and make their costumes. Because you have a brain, gentle reader, you should gather up your friends and sing We’re Off to See the Wizard on Fridays and Saturdays, December 1, 2, 8, 9 and 15 at 8 p.m. or Sundays, December 3, 10, 17 and Saturday, December 16, all at 2 p.m.