Near West Theatre’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’ reminds us of what theater is all about
You have to give credit to Near West Theatre and their production of Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” adapted from the 1939 classic film that we are all familiar with. The cast and crew numbers over sixty participants range in age from seven to seventy and is inclusive of every gender and race. In short it is what community theater is all about...community.
The show would not be possible without the help of all the volunteers who work for eight weeks perfecting their stage presence. During that developmental period they are taught voice, dance and acting to the point that they hit the stage with full confidence and poise.
Dorthy Gale (Elisa Gauntner) has come to Kansas to live on her Aunt Em’s (Bethany Beckham) and Uncle Henry’s (Christian McGinnis) farm. Three men also work on the farm: Hunk (Amaya Moore), Hickory (Perren Hedderson) and Zeke (Jordon Cooper). Things are in an uproar as the hatching light for the chicks has malfunctioned and they are trying desperately to save the brood. There is also a huge storm brewing on the horizon.
Dorothy is in trouble or more to the point her dog Toto (Prudence) is in the dog house having bit the mean Almira Gulch (Anna Loehrke) who has arrived with a sheriff's order to take the dog away. In spite of Dorothy’s protests the dog is put in a picnic hamper and spirited away by Gulch but manages to escape. With Toto escaping the clutches of Almira, Dorothy makes a decision to run away. On the way she meets the kindly Professor Marvel (Shamus Dickinson) who gently convinces Dorothy to return home as her Aunt Em is grieving her running away.
Dorothy arrives back to the farm just as a raging tornado crosses the plains, heading for the farm. Aunt Em, Uncle Henry and the farm hands are safely holed up in the underground storm shelter. As the storm rages, Dorothy is hit on the head with flying debris and is knocked unconscious. The house is suddenly lifted into the air inside the tornado and after a prolonged flight lands in a magical and mystical land of Oz, in particular, Munchkinland. The house has deposited itself on top of the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her.
Glinda (Bethany Beckham) the Good Witch of the North appears and introduces Dorothy to the Munchkins who celebrate her as their hero. The Wicked Witch of the West appears and tries to take the magical ruby slippers worn by her deceased sister but Glinda is too fast for her and the slippers are now on Dorothy’s feet. Vowing vengeance, the Wicked Witch of the West departs. Glinda advises that Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City to visit the Wizard of Oz. On the way she meets a talking scarecrow who needs a brain, a rusted tin man who needs a heart and a cowardly lion. The four misfits band together for their trip to Emerald City and the adventures that await them.
The cast is superb. Elisa Gauntner as Dorothy has a wonderful singing voice that carries the various tunes quite well. Bethany Beckham as Aunt Em and Glinda fills the roles very well indeed. Christian McGinnis as Uncle Henry and the Emerald City Guard is also well adept in his roles. The same can be said of Amaya Moore as Scarecrow and Hunk and Perren Hedderson as Tin Man and Hickory. Special mention must be made of Jordan Cooper as Cowardly Lion and Zeke who really hams up the role bringing much needed comedy relief. Shamus Dickinson does a caring Professor Marvel and Wizard. The various ensembles perform admirably, sing and dancing their way into your heart. Also note that they use a live dog named Prudence to play Toto who is a real charmer and hit everyone of her marks.
The show is directed by Trinidad Snider with Matthew Dolan as musical director and Andrea Belser-McCormack as Choreographer. Julie Billinghurst is the stage manager with Cameron Michalak as scenic designer. Lighting design is by Jeremy Paul with Venchise Phillips as props designer and David Glowe Jr. as costume designer.
The show strives to be true to the original movie and even includes intros to the various songs as well as the number “Jitterbug” that did not make the final cut for the movie. These add-ons give the show a run time of two hours and forty-five minutes plus a fifteen minute well needed intermission. For families with really young children this may be too long of a sit time for them. Happily, the show moves very quickly.
It is always nice to find a non-holiday themed show to escape the challenges of the season. This is such a show. While its length may be a bit long, the action moves at a break neck speed. Come see the show to witness what superbly trained volunteers can accomplish after eight weeks of intensive work and where dreams really do come true.
The Near West Theatre production of “The Wizard of Oz” will be on stage at 6705 Detroit Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio through December 3, 2023. For more information and tickets go to https://www.nearwesttheatre.org/ or call (216) 961-6391.