Oh joy, oh rapture. The Augusta Players have resurrected MGM's 1939 The Wizard of Oz just in time for a heel-clicking holiday weekend. The script and music (though oddly uncredited) stay very close to the classic film.
For us aging baby boomers, this tale is like a close family friend, so a fresh trip down the Yellow Brick Road is always welcome, especially when it's this well done.
Tracy Williams as Dorothy Gale is a delight. Because this became Judy Garland's signature role, those are pretty big slippers to fill. Ms. Williams does not disappoint. She is all open-eyed wonder as the surprises of Oz unfold and poignant when remembering the kindness of Auntie Em.
Toto is played by a befuddled-looking pooch that steals every scene, once by barking at the Munchkins!
Patsy Britt Jennings's Glinda has the perfect pinch of twinkle in her voice. Kay Gross was born to play the double role of Miss Gulch and the cackling Wicked Witch of the West. I swear she was channeling Margaret Hamilton at times.
The Munchkins are played by a talented and well-trained bunch of moppets so cute I won't need to eat sweets for a week. And you may recognize the mayor (Hint: he's taller than your average Munchkin). Dorothy's quest for home depends on meeting her helpful comrades. The Scarecrow is played by rubber-legged Brian Stephens.
Eddie Renew brings a perfect breathless falsetto to the Tin Man. John Gary Pullen's Cowardly Lion roar wrings every chuckle out of King of the Forest. And versatile Matt Stovall tackles the challenging roles of Professor Marvel, the Doorman and a particularly witty Wizard.
Now let's pay some attention to that "man behind the curtain" and praise director Richard B. Justice for bringing this technically demanding wonder to the stage. His twister resembles Japanese theater; the prism set pieces derive from ancient Greece; and he adds pyrotechnic punch with floating faces and vanishing witches. And what a superb balloon launch!
Film buffs will appreciate the return of The Jitterbug, a dance sequence sadly cut from the film. This gives the cast a chance to showcase Cindy O'Brien's handsome choreography. Finally, special praise must go to Ellen Parker's stellar costume design. Glinda's rhinestone crown and Dorothy's now-iconic ruby slippers are perfectly translated from the film.
Friday night's performance at the Imperial Theatre earned a well-deserved standing ovation. If you still need a gift to show Mom how much you care, gather the family and treat them to this experience. You'll enjoy beloved songs live on stage, over the rainbow splendor and a cast of accomplished actors having the time of their lives. All this (ahem) and Toto, too!
The final performance at the Imperial Theater will be at 3 p.m. today.
What: The Wizard of Oz, presented by The Augusta Players
When: 3 p.m. today
Where: The Imperial Theatre, 745 Broad St.
Admission: $8-$26. Call 826-4707.
John Elliott is an associate professor of art history at University of South Carolina Aiken.
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