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THEATER REVIEW : Rigby Takes the Familiar Road to ‘Oz’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When this reviewer first saw Cathy Rigby play Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” in 1988, those ruby red slippers were a surprisingly nice fit. Almost seven years later, they still are, despite her not-quite-perfect production at the La Mirada Theatre.

The diminutive former gymnast, who has won acclaim (and a Tony nomination) for her big stage musical successes, is re-creating her “Wizard” role as part of McCoy Rigby Entertainment’s new professional theater series at the venue, produced by Rigby and her husband, Tom McCoy.

Although some technical glitches and a few puzzling directorial choices provide bumps along the way, John Kane’s true-to-the-movie stage adaptation, complete with score by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg, is a nostalgic romp, thanks to bouncy musical highlights, a talented cast, dancing bugs and poppies, flying monkeys and Toto too.

The Munchkins alone are just about worth the price of admission. These scene-stealers not only look the part, they’re played with remarkable authority by an ensemble of children and teen-agers who have the voices and the moves to make them believable.

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The “wow” moment is “The Jitterbug,” an irresistibly frenetic song-and-dance number, cut from the film, that reaches its breathless climax in Rigby’s daring back flip over the heads of fellow dancers, a slick maneuver that elicited a collective gasp from Saturday’s mostly adult audience. Patti Columbo and John Charron did the show’s zippy choreography.

Rigby receives strong support from Reece Holland’s loose-limbed Scarecrow, David Rupert’s stalwart Tinman and Eric Leviton’s comical Cowardly Lion--Leviton’s “King of the Forest” solo is a hoot.

Jacqueline Jones Watson’s versatile lights and pyrotechnics and other special effects by Rick Helgason and Flying By Foy wire work are crowd-pleasers, although the Wicked Witch (Pamela Hamill) had a little trouble firing up her broom on Saturday.

Quibbles include a tornado sequence that seems a mite too tame, the deletion of the hot-air balloon sequence at the end and director Lewis Wilkenfeld’s unimaginative staging of the Wizard’s unveiling by the Lion (Toto, played by an adorable terrier named Molly, being more a carry-on sort of canine than an active participant).

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Leviton’s intent is far too obvious as he crosses the stage and then “accidentally” hits a lever that reveals the Wizard (S. Marc Jordan) in his hiding place under the stairs. A short time later, an artificially long pause in dialogue is necessary to accommodate the loud, hydraulic hiss as the Wizard’s hatch closes.

The most serious flaw on Saturday, however, was that Rigby’s full, nuanced vocals were ill-served by miking that made her sound at times as if she were singing from the bottom of a barrel, detracting particularly from her wistful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” probably the show’s most anticipated moment.

* “The Wizard of Oz,” La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., Tuesday through Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30 p.m.; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Through Jan. 22. $28-$32; half-price for 12 and under. (310) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310. Running time: 2 hours.


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