‘No place like home’ for Wizard of Oz

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Reminiscent of childhood memories of the 1939 film, but with the grandeur of a Broadway production, National Theatre's adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz" is a trip down memory lane - well, down the yellow brick road.

Dorothy has a fabulous voice, Toto steals the show at times, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion are worthy of their reputations, and the addition of new Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice songs makes the show a worthy tribute to the original 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum.

Sarah Lasko, a Rockville, Md., native in her National Tour debut, uses her incredible voice range to bring Dorothy to life on the busy Kansas farm owned by her Auntie Em (Emmanuelle Zeesman) and Uncle Henry (Randy Charleville). She complains, "I should've been born a chicken, then they'd pay attention to me."

As the local crank Miss Gulch (Shani Hadjian) sets her sights on Dorothy's dog Toto (Nigel) - yes, he has an understudy (Loki) - Dorothy decides to run away. She happens upon Professor Marvel (Mark A. Harmon) and his trailer full of magical and scientific wonders. Her plan to accompany the professor on his travels is cut short by an approaching twister.

Staging of the tornado is impressive. With a video projected full stage, the storm clouds swirl menacingly amidst farm equipment, the small clapboard home, a lone cow and the witch on a bicycle to a cacophony of sound and lighting effects. After the storm, the black-and-white tights and sparkling red ruby slippers stick out from under the askew home.

Glinda (Rachel Womble) makes her entrance being lowered onto the stage as Dorothy says, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

The Good Witch, with a humorous but lovely demeanor, welcomes Dorothy to the land beyond the rainbow as the Munchkins credit her with killing the Wicked Witch of the East. The company joins in a colorful song and dance that comes to a halt when the Wicked Witch of the West (Hadjian) thunders into the mix with her flaming broomstick.

At Glinda's instruction, Dorothy sets out on the yellow brick road, an innovative ramp edged in colorful flowers, on her way to find the Wizard in Oz.

The Scarecrow (Morgan Reynolds), with a distracting high-pitched voice, wows Dorothy with his flexibility and good-naturedness. His silly slapstick makes him lovable and Dorothy invites him to join her journey so he can ask the Wizard for a brain. If you recall the original story, the Scarecrow is pretty clever and was the one who told Dorothy how to unhook him from the farm post.

Down the road, the Tin Man (Jay McGill) squeaks out, "Oil can. Oil can." His line delivery is great, and combined with initially jerky movements and synchronized sound effects, he is quickly a standout in the journey. His tap dance with axe in hand is delightful.

Now in the scary forest, Lion (Aaron Fried) jumps out in an absurd, mega-broad-chested costume. With a touch of Harvey Fierstein, Fried flamboyantly reveals, "I even scare myself."

As the group ventures toward Oz in search of a way home, a brain, a heart and the nerve, the Wicked Witch reappears with a winged monkey. Its fabulously grotesque gargoyle-like costume and freakish movements were both scary and entertaining, and it becomes a classic moment in the production.

Oz comes to life as the company belts out "The Merry Old Land of Oz" in all its green finery looking a bit like Ziegfeld Follies with a rag-time twist.

New songs added throughout are jarring to expectations at first, but have the distinctive flavor of Weber and Rice, and they grow on you. In Act 1, "Nobody Understands Me" is followed by "Wonders of the World," and before intermission, the Wicked Witch sings "Bring Me the Broomstick" from the right box seats punctuated with strobe lights and loud noises.

The second act kicks off with video of flying monkeys and screeching sounds that might scare little theater-goers. The witch casts a "Jitterbug Spell," a throwback to the original book and a scene cut from the film because of length, that sets them all to dancing until they are weary. Hadjian's high notes and witchlike intonations don't disappoint. Not to give away too much, but the melting scene is well done.

Back in Oz to ensure the Wizard makes good on his promise in exchange for of the witch's broomstick, the four learn the fate of their requests. Staged in front of a majestic hot air balloon, they make their tearful goodbyes. Dorothy speaks to each of her friends, but gives Scarecrow a hug saying, "I'll miss you most of all." As the audience sniffs a bit, the Lion says, "Him?" and Tin Man chimes in on feeling slighted.

After Dorothy misses her ride home, Glinda reappears to remind her that "Home is a place in your heart" in "Already Home," a delightful song. After Dorothy's three repetitions of "There's no place like home," she's back where the story began surrounded by family and friends all dressed and lit in sepia colors, reminiscent of the black-and-white portions of the film.

In the last scene, when Dorothy is alone with Toto, cabinet doors open to reveal the one thing that convinces her that her adventure was not just a dream.

The Wizard of Oz runs through May 15 at National Theatre in Washington.

Augherton can be reached at aaugherton@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016