In keeping with this season’s theme of “Finding Home”, Flint Youth Theatre is taking us once again down that magical yellow brick road in search of The Wizard of Oz. Both young and old were enchanted Saturday by this colorful, joyful, sometimes scary but always hopeful, musical adventure.
It was just two years ago that FYT first produced this Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation of the beloved Warner Bros. film version of L. Frank Baum’s enduring story. It was wonderful then, and this version is just as terrific, directed this time by guest director, Lynn Lammers. All the music sung and danced by these well-known characters will thrill young and old alike.
As for special effects, the “cyclone” transformation of Czerton Lim’s set from drab Kansas countryside to vibrant Oz with the flying cows and even the grouchy Miss Gulch flying by on her bicycle is also being reprised and gallantly.
Also, many of the original players are back to repeat their roles, but many are new faces in this large cast. One of those new faces is Dorothy, played by Chloe LaFave-Hale. Fresh, sweet, bubbly and indignant when necessary, she embodies Dorothy to a tee. Landing in Oz with Toto (Yodie, a Yorkshire Terrier, reprises this role), the adventure begins.
Glinda, the good witch, played once again by Elsa Harchick, arrives amidst clouds of bubbles to grant Dorothy the magic ruby slippers that will keep her safe, and also point her toward the Wizard to grant her wish to return home. One of the best song and dance combos of the show ensues as the Munchkins and Glinda first rejoice, “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead”, then direct Dorothy to “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” to Oz.
You know the story – first Dorothy encounters the Scarecrow in need of a brain. His body is all straw it seems, and therefore very wiry and disjointed. Matt Coggins is superb in this role. Indeed, he needs to be careful not to steal the show. Wonderfully limber, his song and dance “If I Only Had A Brain” is a true show highlight.
He joins Dorothy to see the Wizard in search of a brain, and they soon come upon a frozen fellow made of tin. Seems he rusted solid quite some time ago, but Dorothy frees him with a nearby oilcan. LaTroy Childress is excellent as the Tinman with his robotic moves and wonderful “If I Only Had A Heart”. This quest causes him to also join in the trek to see the Wizard.
Entering a wood, the trio is suddenly frightened by a “ferocious” beast! Cathleen L. Arnold reprises her marvelous portrayal of the Cowardly Lion complete with a massive wig (mane) and tan overhauls. Arnold is perfection in this role. She is amazingly agile and hysterically funny, but powerful in singing her desire, “If I Only Had The Nerve”.
As for that pesky Wizard – Mark Gmazel is back to play both Professor Marvel and the Wizard. He brings that special bluster and tongue-in-cheek humor he does so well.
We must not forget the villain of the piece, the Wicked Witch of the West! Deirdre S. Baker returns in this amazing role! She brings a sense of foreboding and threat but is also visually glorious as she tries to reclaim the ruby slippers. She melts nicely, too!
Music is live and under the direction of Gary King on the piano and supported by six other musicians (Owen Ananich, Dan Gerics, Annadelle Kimber, Will Mintline, Britton Paige, Aaron Weeks). Aside from a couple slow tempos at the beginning Saturday, this group was a real asset to the singers who were nicely amplified as well.
Choreography by Melanie Schott is great and makes this stage full of kids look like pros as do the costumes by Amber Marisa Cook. Loved the return to grey shades at the end! A detailed touch.
Finally, there are a slew of youngsters involved in this show on stage. We cannot mention them all, but without their enthusiasm and unbridled joy flooding over the footlights, this show would be much less than it is.
If you missed it last time, make up for that this year. Take the family to this exceptional experience. We are so fortunate to have FYT here in Flint. It is unique and coveted by many larger cities, but it’s here, and is one of those very nice things we can say about Flint.
The Wizard of Oz continues weekends through December 20 at Bower Theatre. Evening performances are at 7:00 pm and matinees are at 2:00 pm. Please contact the box office for dates and school time performances at 810-237-1530 or online at FlintYouthTheatre.org