By Charlene Baldridge
L. Frank Baum’s 1900 book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” intended by its author to be the first American fairytale, became a cottage industry of 13 sequels, many written in Coronado, which became known as the Emerald City. Thus, the story had natural appeal to the Coronado troupe known as Lamb’s Players Theatre, which decided to commission an entirely new musical based the beloved story, title it “Oz,” and premiere it in the Lamb’s Theatre Coronado venue.
Music director Jon Lorenz, one of the creators of Lamb’s perennial “Mixtape,” wrote the “Oz” adaptation, music and lyrics, and Kerry Meads is the director.
There are no ruby slippers, no “Over the Rainbow,” and no Toto, who is represented only by his bark. But rather than dwell on what is not, let us look at what is.
Lorenz’s score is tuneful, with Woodsman’s “Hollow” and Lion’s “My Great Sorrow” among the best. There’s an ingenious yellow brick road. There are “Munch Kins,” flying monkeys, Winkies, Emerald City citizens, and, best of all, a quintet of lovable leading actors to portray Dorothy (Megan Carmitchel), the Lion (Fernando Vega), the Woodsman (Bryan Barbarin), the Scarecrow (James Royce Edwards), and that great humbug, Oz himself (John Rosen). Deborah Gilmour Smyth portrays Aunt Em plus the kindly witch Tatty Poo and the wicked Witch of the West, who does a miraculous melt right before our eyes.
Most Oz inhabitants have a slight Celtic lilt to their speech, and costume designer Jeannie Reith has a wizard of a time with their hats and attire, delineating each group, with a wonderful assist by Coni’s wigs. Reith’s Lion, Woodsman and Scarecrow costumes are marvels of detail and craft.
Each character is portrayed to the hilt (Lion’s voice has a telltale, Bert Lahr bleat in places); their voices are extraordinary, including Carmitchel’s. Their culminating trio, “All I Ever Wanted and More,” and the show-topping “Home” (the trio plus Dorothy, Glinda and Company) bring nostalgic tears to one’s eyes. Along with Dorothy we feel a deep longing for the Midwest, despite its “Gray,” and the love we received as children.
Meads does a fine job of imbuing both story and stage with a feeling of simple storytelling. She is assisted by a total of 14 singing and dancing actors, Mike Buckley’s set, Colleen Kollar Smith’s choreography, Nathan Peirson’s lighting design, Smyth’s sound design and Blake McCarty’s projection design. Playing Taylor Peckham’s orchestration of Lorenz’s rock, folk and ragtime score, an eight-piece band is conducted from the keyboard by Patrick Marion.
Among the fabulous understatements in Lorenz’s book are two personal favorites: Uncle Henry’s “Could be a storm comin’” as he tries to load the storm shelter, and Dorothy’s “Oh, that is not regular” when she first lays eyes on Oz.
“Oz: a wondrous new musical” is a storm of an original that lies close to its source, Baum’s first telling of the great American fairytale. It is anything but regular, and I urge theatregoers to take their families to appreciate and enjoy what it is.
For the record, Baum created his own successful musical theater adaptation of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” There have been many screen and stage adaptations since: Among the most successful are the 1939 MGM film with Judy Garland, for whom “Over the Rainbow” was written; the 1975 stage musical titled “The Wiz”; and Stephen Schwartz’s 2003 Broadway musical, “Wicked,” based upon Gregory Maguire’s far afield novel.