“Wizard of Oz” Marches into Johnstown

WizardofOz-SMALLMunchkins are a Marvel as “Wizard of Oz” Marches into Johnstown

Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 12, 2016

The Wizard of Oz” has been around forever. In 1900 L. Frank Baum wrote the American children’s novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” which turned up as the Metro Goldwyn Mayer movie musical in 1939 and immortalized Judy Garland as Dorothy. The film shows up regularly on television; and many in the current audience grew up knowing that Dorothy was swept away in a tornado – or just a bad dream, after her beloved dog, Toto, was taken by a mean-spirited neighbor. The movie begins in black and white, turning to dazzling Technicolor when Dorothy arrives in Oz.

Rachel Graham Photography
Rachel Graham Photography

Dorothy emerges from the tornado believing she is in a mysterious, but beautiful place, surrounded by friendly folk who greatly resemble her aunt and uncle and Kansas farmers. Even the mean-spirited neighbor who took away her beloved Toto is in Dorothy’s new life – this time as an evil witch. Dorothy wants to go “home” to Kansas.

Sound familiar? The current production on the stage of Candlelight Dinner Theater in Johnstown will certainly jog many memories of hearing the tale or seeing the movie.

Kent Sugg has directed a particularly large cast in this look at Dorothy’s adventures. Her aunt and uncle and workers from the family farm appear as friendly folk in Dorothy’s travel to Oz. The cast includes many young people, some on stage for the first time, mixing them in the ensemble with experienced CDP performers. Dorothy is played by Christy Oberndorf, a newcomer to local Playhouse audiences. She is a sophomore at University of Northern Colorado and makes an impressive debut. She can sing, dance, and act. And is very convincing as the young girl who truly just wants to go “home.”

Rachel Graham Photography
Rachel Graham Photography

I must be cautious, however, as the overture was limp, with no outstanding melodies. The famous “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is sung early in the show. The first act is slow in getting our attention, as there is so much dialogue. Evidently the show’s authors decided they needed to lay a lot of not-so-interesting background early in the show so that some of the characters would make sense later on.

I was, however, ready for another yawn, when suddenly Dorothy had arrived in Munchinkland, and the stage was awash with delight! Chorographer Stephen Bertles has a very creative mind, and his view of dancing Munchkins is the show’s highlight. They are a large combination of young performers standing up and older performers on their knees, so as to have everyone more or less the same height. The total effect created by Bertles is enormous fun, with “Ding, Dong, The Witch is Dead.”

Costuming through the show is also first-rate. The Munchkins, Poppies, Ozians, Monkeys, Winkies and Jitterbugs all look terrific. The sets are colorful. The cast is uniformly good. It appears that it is the show’s basic material which is lacking.

Rachel Graham Photography
Rachel Graham Photography

Annie Dwyer is excellent as the mean-spirited neighbor in Kansas, and as Wicked Witch of the West. Melissa Swift Sawyer is believable as the Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and as Dorothy’s Aunt Em in Kansas. David Wygant is terrific as the Emerald City Guard (and as Dorothy’s Uncle Henry). His antics in refusing Dorothy and her friends entrance into Oz are reminiscent of the zaniness of Nathan Lane roles. Deylan Dean is without bones as the Scarecrow, Stephen Bertles has no heart as the Tinman, and Markus Warren is the Cowardly Lion whose search of courage is the highlight of the second act. Patrick Sawyer is in fine voice as the traveling professor and as The Wizard of Oz.

Well known songs include “Over the Rainbow,” “Ding, Dong, The Witch is Dead, “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” and the cowardly lion’s anthem “If I Were King of the Forest.”

Everyone in the cast appears to be thoroughly enjoying the show. Their enthusiasm is infectious. The young cast was especially appealing to younger persons in the audience who had a great time.

Arriving at the theatre, there was a menacing storm threatening over the mountains to the West of town. Was a Cyclone/Tornado on its way? If the audience was knocked out by its force, as was Dorothy in Kansas, would we be able to get back to Johnstown? Yes. Glinda, the Good Witch, will show us the way.

The Wizard of Oz
Where: Candlelight Dinner Playhouse
4747 Marketplace Drive, Johnstown
To: September 11, 2016
For Tickets:  970/744-3747 or ColoradoCandlelight.com