When L. Frank Baum sat down to create “The Wizard of Oz” a century
ago, he could not have imagined what his simple children’s fantasy
Today, just about everyone over the age of 2 is familiar with the
journey of Dorothy and her friends down that well-traveled yellow
Which, apparently was one problem when the Laguna Playhouse Youth
Theater elected to present the stage version of “Wizard” -- everyone
not only knows the show, most kids could cue the actors if they went
up on lines.
Thus, Youth Theater director Joe Lauderdale came up with a concept
that -- while remaining quite close to the Judy Garland movie classic
of more than 60 years ago -- embellishes the story, offers stunning
panoramic scenic backdrops and offers a “new look” at some very
The result is a three-hour extravaganza that provides a showcase
for some colorful costumes and inventive choreography, as well as
some interesting character twists.
In Laguna’s production, Dorothy is donned in a brown plaid shirt
and overalls, not the traditional blue and white checkered number
inspired by Garland in the 1939 movie (and worn by at least one
little girl to Sunday’s matinee). The Tin Man’s costume is built
around a large hubcap, and his face is free of the silver paint that
characterizes the role (and drove Buddy Ebsen from the movie
The most significant departure from tradition, however, is the
Wicked Witch of the West, who appears in a yellow-and-gold get-up and
becomes a comical villainess rather than the shrieking, black-garbed
harridan created by Margaret Hamilton. This, presumably, was done to
avoid scaring the younger audiences, but it’s a choice that never
really works as convincingly as it should.
Ashley Eskew is luminous in the role of Dorothy, blending a rich
vocal style with an excellent interpretation to create a most capable
and lovable heroine. This young actress possesses a superior stage
presence and a natural, convincing performing style.
The witch, in Laguna’s concept, is a benign creature who, in the
hands of Melinda Womack, comes off tentatively in her earlier
appearance as Miss Gulch and less than frightening in her colorful
witch’s garb. If her primary mission is “don’t scare the kiddies,”
she succeeds quite nicely.
More convincing is April Morgan, who doubles as Aunt Em and
Glinda, the good witch of the North. Morgan is especially strong in
her Kansas scenes, riding herd on the three shiftless farm hands who
become Dorothy’s companions on her dreamlike journey.
This trio -- Joel Mijares as the Scarecrow, Jay Skovec as the Tin
Man and Terry Christopher as the Cowardly Lion -- brings the
characters to life quite effectively while contributing much of the
Mijares excels in his straw-stuffed characterization, Skovec
overcomes his strange costume to bring an abundance of “heart” to the
performance, while Christopher’s Lion is a marvelous blend of
boisterous bluster and terror-stricken reticence.
John Petersen nicely interprets the squeamish gate guard in Oz (he
also does a strong Uncle Henry in Kansas). And Toto appears in two
guises -- a genuine little dog (Simba Lauderdale) in Kansas and in
the energetic form of tiny actress Jayne Gustafson when the action
shifts to Oz. This young actress is thoroughly adorable and capable
of stealing scenes as well as hearts.
The hugely dominant settings of designer Don Gruber are
spectacular in their colorful detail. Dwight Richard Odle’s
elaborately styled costumes (even the tornado is “alive” in the form
of six whirling ballerinas) bring the show to brilliant life. Ellen
Prince’s marvelously smooth choreography and Donna Ruzika’s richly
luminous lighting effects (abetted by Dave Edwards’ superior sound
design) render show-stopping technical embellishment.
Director Lauderdale has called his “Wizard of Oz” the most
ambitious project yet attempted by the Youth Theater, an opinion it
would be difficult to contest. The show is an amalgam of performing
and technical acumen calculated to inspire awe and wonderment from an
audience well versed in “Wizardry.”
* TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.