Port Tobacco Players The Wizard of OzBy Xandra Weaver • Jul 25th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Port Tobacco Players
Port Tobacco Players Theatre, La Plata, MD
Through August 12th
3 hours with one intermission
Reviewed July 21st, 2012
Port Tobacco Players has pulled together a stage show that is sweet and endearing, energetic and enjoyable. The classic story of a little girl who journeys over the rainbow and ends up on a yellow brick road to find a wizard is brought to life by a dedicated and enthusiastic cast. In a packed theater in southern Maryland, they brought the house down with humor, show-stopping musical sequences and a lot of courage.
Although there were some pacing issues at the beginning that slowed things down (no one really wants to spend that much time in grey Kansas), the play hit its best moment as soon as Dorothy entered Munchkinland. When the mass of children came out as the Munchkins, the show came to life. The children’s chorus was the most animated, best rehearsed and tightest vocal grouping of the entire show. Every girl and boy in the scene was unique, interesting to watch, and confident in their lines. The audience loved it, and it really was the high point of the show.
The staging of the scenes was also good at bringing the audience into Oz. Dorothy and her adorable Yorkshire terrier traveled the yellow brick road up and down the aisles of the audience, which was good for keeping the children in the audience excited while the set changed. The set also was a highlight of the show. Scene changes were swift, choreographed and very specific, bringing you on a journey to new places in the land of Oz without overcrowding the set. A projector was used effectively not just as a backdrop for each scene, but also as a device in itself to show magic. Of particular note was the scene where Dorothy and her friends are falling asleep in the poppy field. A scene of flowers in a field was projected onto the screen behind them, but then suddenly, it seemed a hole had appeared in the screen, and Glinda could be seen behind it. This was accomplished with a very specifically timed animation on the projector screen in conjunction with a back light on a raised part of the set. The effect was worthy of scrim/projection work one would see in a professional setting, and elevated the production as well as serving the story.
Overall, the production had a lot of magical special effect moments. Some succeeded, and others were a little jarring. Many times, the witch shot flames or smoke rather fantastically, and all these were timed and executed well. The giant head of the Wizard of Oz was a large animatronic puppet, and although it might have benefited from a little more haze to hide the resemblance to a certain big-headed CG Dreamworks alien with a large mind, it served its purpose once the lights in its eyes began to glow and the larger than life voice echoed through the theater.
The effects that were a little too loud or jarring mostly just made the audience laugh. For instance, in the scene in the poppy field, snow is supposed to fall from the sky to aid Dorothy in escaping the sleep effects of the poppies. Instead of using the screen behind them to create gently falling snow, two giant rockets on either side of the stage suddenly exploded, provoking yells of alarm from an audience, and snow like confetti drifted to the stage, provoking giggles. In another scene, the witch “flew” across the stage on a zipline, but the effect was so unexpected and quick that it seemed more funny than anything else. Perhaps if the cast had all looked in the direction she was going to zip from, there might have been less of a surprise when she zoomed diagonally across the stage.
Overall, however, the audience enjoyed the show, staying engaged throughout the entire three hour performance. Some of the actors were definitely audience favorites by the end of the night. The scarecrow (played by Charles Watley) for instance had a rag-doll physicality that made him look as if he was one gust of wind from being blown over, and a real comedic timing that made the part his own. At one point the way he delivered a line after being torn apart by the flying monkeys “I can’t reach my leg!!!” was echoed by a child in the audience who evidently found it hilarious and just had to repeat it, and probably continued repeating it on the way home. Dorothy, played by Kaylin Beach, was sweet and little and endearing. Her singing range would never rival Judy Garland, and many of the notes were rewritten so she could hit them, but never once did she let the audience down in portraying the lovable heroine with a little touch of spunk that helps her get through the fairy land.
Also of note was the Cowardly Lion, played by Chad Mildenstein, another crowd favorite whose song “If I Were King of the Forest” was arguably as engaging the movie version, with a style all his own. His diction and range were fantastic, and really brought empathy for the character.
Production values for the set and costumes were fantastic, and very cohesive. Other than one misstep with an overly-poofy Glinda dress that swallowed the actress’s waist, the costumes were well implemented. All the Munchkinlanders were colorful and bright, the main cast was recognizable in their well-known togs, the Witch’s robes flowed menacingly, and the rest of the cast looked like each costume had been made exactly for them, no small feat for community theater and a cast that large.
Less than successful was the makeup, with Dorothy’s cheeks so red they looked chapped. Watley as the Scarecrow had his natural dark complexion covered in the wrong shade of yellow makeup, giving a very pallid cast to an otherwise handsome actor. The Witch, who could have used some pallor instead, was so bright as to be nearly neon green, though this perhaps was intentional to make her more cartoonish. A more blue-grey mix could have lessened the glowing effect, but might have made her more menacing. In a fantasy story, however, there will be different interpretations of how to do a fantasy land, and overall there were no makeup effects that pulled the audience out of the story or misrepresented Oz.
The children who spilled out of the theater with awe and excitement on their faces were the true test of the success of this troupe’s labors. They sat through a three-hour spectacle and enjoyed every moment of it. There may be no place like home, but for those kids, there was no place like the theater that night. In a sold out theater, where the aisles turned into the yellow brick road, and a scarecrow, lion and tin man skipped along together to find the Wizard, the audience was whirled into the world of Oz and magic was made.
- Dorothy: Kaylin Beach
- Aunt Em: Heather Bauer
- Miss Gulch/Witch: Kristin Atwell
- Glinda: Amy Wathen Cooksey
- Uncle Henry/Guard of Oz: Dan Brennan
- Zeke/Lion: Chad Mildenstein
- Hickory/Tinman: Timothy LaBelle
- Hunk/Scarecrow: Charles Watley
- Professor Marvel/Wizard of Oz: David Standish
- Crow/Jitterbug/Ensemble: Troy McConnell
- Tree/Jitterbug/Ensemble: Holly DeLoache, Deana Gilley
- Jitterbugs/Ensemble: Kaitlin Harbin, Francis Ford
- Crows/Winkies/Ensemble: Kyle Bailey, Nicholas Cantu
- Winkies: Frank Cook, Thomas Donohue, Charles Flemmings, Matt Jones, Greg Kenney
- Ensemble: Angela Alexander,Monica Eller, Katie Fischer, Greg Kenney, Sara Cauler
- Munchkins: Jahna Adams, Angela Alexander, Julia Atwell, Garrett Cooksey, Clay Crofford, Candesce Crofford, Carissa Crofford, Wyatt Edwards, Taylor-Rene Flemmings, Alexis Fraser, Trinity Fraser, Hannah Gilley, Kristen Ging, Chloe Lateulere, Jenna Leitzel, Trent McConnell, Christopher Morse, Madelyn Mudd, Molly Mudd, Kate O’Meara, Skye Taylor, Isabella Valasco
- Toto: Putter Ball
- Producers: Cheryl M. Reckeweg and Rick Pitonyak
- Director: Joe Stine
- Music Director: Will V. Derr
- Stage Manager: Kenneth L Waters Jr.
- Set Designer and Construction head: John Merritt
- Choreography: Brooke Howells
- Hair Design and Scenic Painting: Ronna Johnson
- Lighting Design: Leslie Wanko
- Properties: Melissa Ball
- Special Effects: Keith Linville
- Costumes: Pat Brennen
- Makeup: Heather and Kaitelyn Bauer
- Sound: Gerhard Straub
Disclaimer: Port Tobacco Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8370.
Xandra Weaver has a great love of the process of theater and the creation of art that has led her into working both behind the scenes and onstage. Her career includes working for many years providing sound and lights for both professional and amateur shows as well as makeup work for a feature film. At college, she specialized in makeup to earn her theater degree, and discovered a love for directing and playwrighting. She's also been a nominee for the DC area theater WATCH awards for her work with the company of The Producers with The Arlington Players.