By CHARLES WHALEY
That well-traveled yellow brick road to “The Wizard of Oz” beckons once again in Derby Dinner Playhouse’s impressive revival of the Royal Shakespeare Company of England’s theatrical treatment of the classic film.
This magical production, expertly directed by Lee Buckholz, taps into the vast range of emotions elicited by L. Frank Baum’s original story and the MGM musical with its great Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg score, here under Scott Bradley’s musical direction.
Audience surrender is a foregone conclusion from the moment that feisty, vulnerable Dorothy Gale (Cami Glauser, captivating in the Judy Garland role) sings a yearning “Over the Rainbow” as she wonders how to protect her adored dog Toto from threats of vicious neighbor Almira Gultch (Lauren Leland, channeling Margaret Hamilton).
Toto, a 5-year-old Shi Tzu/Yorkshire Terrier mix named Reese, performs with a veteran’s assurance in her stage debut.
With tongue in cheek, producer Bekki Jo Schneider asked if people at Friday’s press opening knew the show’s story. Who doesn’t? It’s all here, starting with the Kansas farm where Dorothy lives with Uncle Henry (Lem Jackson) and Aunt Em (Jillian Prefach) and is befriended by the three farmhands who transform into the scarecrow (Matthew Brennan), a tin woodsman (Tyler Bliss), and a cowardly lion (Paul Kerr) when she is knocked out during a twister and finds herself over the rainbow in Oz.
The storm scene is brilliantly realized as ballet dancers (choreography by Heather Page Folsom) flip and twirl long cloth pieces while lightning flashes (lighting design by Ron Breedlove), and thunder crashes (sound by David Nelson). During these electrifying moments Miss Gultch turns into the black-clad Wicked Witch furiously riding her bike.
And now the stage brightens as flower-filled Oz comes into view with Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Jillian Prefach, who was Aunt Em) floating down from the ceiling in a sparkling blue gown to introduce Dorothy and Toto to the munchkins who live there and are overjoyed that Dorothy’s house fell on the Wicked Witch of the West and killed her. Cue “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.”
Dorothy now wears the wicked one’s ruby red slippers and is protected by their power.
Young boys and girls play the munchkins this time, and they are precious to behold. Christeen Florence, Olivia Manning, and Aubrey Claire Hennis are the elegant Lullaby League singers while Braedan Criss, Hunter Broyles, and Dallas Edwards are the pompous, self-important Lollipop Guild. The boys’ costumes (by costume designer Sharon Murray Harrah) are a hoot.
Dorothy and her three fellow travelers (all excellent) on the yellow brick road to Emerald City each hope the wizard (a fine Jim Hesselman) can give them what they need — a brain for the scarecrow, a heart for the tin man, courage for the lion, and a way for Dorothy to get back home.
The journey’s setbacks are pretty scary as they succumb to sleepiness in a field of poppies and get captured by the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys.
But the witch meets her end by melting when Dorothy accidentally throws water on her. That melting scene is eerily effective and mysterious.
The tearful happy ending hits its mark. That’s for sure. There’s no place like home. Agreed?
“The Wizard of Oz” runs through Aug. 18. For tickets and information call 812-288-8281, toll free 877-898-8577, or www.derbydinner.com.