The second the opening chords of “The Wizard of Oz” began at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center Thursday night, I felt that familiar thrill.
“Oz” is my favorite movie. I grew up watching it on TV every Thanksgiving, anticipating the wonder, fear and fun I knew I was going to see. I knew every song, every line, every emotional high and low.
My experience with theatrical versions of “Oz” is mixed. When a theater chooses to stage “The Wizard of Oz,” they know they are going to be judged in unfair ways. Comparing a theatrical show to a 1939 movie? It’s what we all do. So how does EPAC’s show rate?
Well, that thrill I felt at the opening chords? It stayed with me through most of the show. This is a delightful production that is faithful to the movie while offering a theatrical vision. Kudos to director and choreographer Irving Gonzalez for giving the show charm and energy and capturing the spirit of the film.
He is working with a terrific cast.
Josey Terry is a lovely Dorothy. She’s got a great voice and a soulful spirit.
Bruce Weaver and Bryna Freeman are the perfect salt of the earth Uncle Henry and Aunt Em.
The foundational scene of “Oz” in Kansas are well done here. We feel Dorothy’s frustration that nobody is paying attention to her troubles with Miss Gulch and Toto. We see her relationship with the farm hands who will become the Scarecrow (Rick Kopecky), Tin Man (Zander Gawn) and Lion (Bob Checchia). And we meet Professor Marvel (John Kleimo) who will, of course, become the Wizard of Oz.
Dorothy’s buddies are all a delight. Kopecky’s Scarecrow is lithe and bright, Gawn makes it clear that the Tin Man has the biggest heart. Checchia’s Lion is hilarious as she should be . Checchia gives him a sweet cowardly vibe and his costume is perfect.
All of the costumes are spot on from the Munchkins to the Ozian guards.
The Munchkin scene is an absolute delight, with about 25 kids giving cheer to the death of the Wicked Witch of the East and doing it quite well.EPAC has been working with young kids in its Kids4Kids shows for several years not and the payoff is here. These kids sing and dance well and are in the moment.
Liz Checchia is fun and a little terrifying as the Wicked Witch. Her cackles are especially good.
Kayla Klase is a wonderful Glinda. All goodness and light, she has the authority to guide Dorothy through her journey.
Weaver does double duty as the Gatekeeper at the Emerald City and he’s a hoot. Kleimo is a solid Wizard, offering just the right amount of befuddlement and wisdom.
Bobby Checchia is Nicco, the head Flying Monkey, who humorously complains to the Wicked Witch that she’s too demanding.
And finally Toto (who is not credited in the program!) is wonderful. On opening night, he was mellow and always where he was supposed to be. For a dog, that’s stellar acting.
Theatrical touches, like the singing apple trees, the red umbrella poppies and the twister are lovely.
The technical aspects of “Oz” are huge. Most everything worked well on opening night. One problem was too much smoke between some scenes, which led to too much darkness on stage.
Finally, back to those opening chords: The orchestra, under the direction of Zach Smith, was magnificent. All of those iconic songs were thrilling.