By Daniel Skora
The Kansas farmhouse where Dorothy Gale lived has undoubtedly alighted upon Munchkinland hundreds of thousands of times since it was first wrenched from its moorings in 1900. L. Frank Baum’s book and the numerous movies and stage productions that followed have made “The Wizard of Oz” a global success. But it took a song from the 1939 movie to reveal Dorothy’s true destination. It wasn’t a place that could be found on any map, was, in fact, only as tangible as the morning mist or a nighttime fog. Her true destination was somewhere over the rainbow, and even if Dorothy eventually found herself back in Kansas, she at least had her memories of a place where “the dreams that you dream of really do come true”.
Currently, the rainbow ends in Dexter, Michigan. That’s where the Encore Musical Theatre is putting on a musical stage adaptation based on MGM’s classic film, “The Wizard of Oz”. The Encore is an (almost) all musical theatre with a history of taking on even the most challenging of Broadway musicals. They have turned out exceptional productions of shows where other theatres their size fear to tread, most notably “Les Miz”, in which they transformed their not-quite-so-large-as-the-big-box-theatres staging area into a space that nicely accommodated every large-scale setting that the script called for. “The Wizard of Oz” poses its own special challenges.
There are some top notch performances in Encore’s production. Dan Morrison has lots of theatre heart even though his character, The Tin Man, is out looking for one. Nick Brown is nimble as the scarecrow and wouldn’t it be nice if we could all loose a little bit of weight by reaching down under our coats and pulling out a handful of straw. Wendy Katz Hiller is pleasantly scary as the Wicked Witch of the West and Daniel L. Helmer paints an authoritative portrait of the Wizard. Lauren Norris is prim and proper as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, then down home and countrified as Aunt Em. But it helps if you’ve drawn the most emotive of all the parts, and it’s Gayle E. Martin who’s the best of the best in her role as The Cowardly Lion. Her performance sparkles, an entertaining and accomplished study that’s a genuine winner. It’s not hard to imagine her performing the role on a Broadway stage with the big guys, and not only holding her own, but actually stealing the show.
The cast of twenty-two includes an ensemble of youngsters who play the Munchkins and have their own dreams of bigger roles on the other side of the rainbow. The part of Dorothy alternates on various dates between three actresses: Maeve Donevan, Jennie Rupp, and Mariah Colby, who gave a fine performance on opening night.
The Encore uses visual images projected onto the back of the stage to establish place for most of the scenes. Though the photos adequately do their job, the stage proper is another issue. No doubt Oz is a difficult show to stage. From its opening cyclone sequence on through Munchkinland, the poppy fields, the Emerald City, the Witch’s castle, and the flying monkeys, the staging possibilities seem endless. Converting Baum’s book to the stage strains the budgets and creative capabilities of even the most accomplished and well-healed of companies. Beginning with Dorothy’s landing in Munchkinland, the movie is awash in Technicolor magic. The film’s change from black and white to color was and remains a memorable film moment. Encore’s set, with opposing tiers of nondescript sandy-colored steps, may handle a lot of traffic, but does little to spur the imagination and make “Oz” the colorful spectacle it deserves to be.
But imagination is what theatre is all about. Bring yours along to The Encore and enjoy a true American classic performed by a talented and super-enthused cast. You won’t be disappointed. “The Wizard of Oz” is directed by Thalia V. Schramm. Set design is by Bartley H. Bauer, lighting by Daniel C. Walker. Costumes are by Sharon Larkey Urick and R. MacKenzie Lewis directs the music.
“The Wizard of Oz” runs through December 23rd. For tickets, call The Encore Musical Theatre Box Office at 734.268.6269 or visit their website at www.theencoretheatre.org. The Encore Musical Theatre is located at 3126 Broad Street in the historic village of Deter. Take I-94 west and exit at Baker Street.