A terrific cast and a visually stunning feast of scenery, costumes, lighting and video combine to make “The Wizard of Oz” a slam-dunk family treat at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
A Thursday preview audience showered actors, and sometimes visual effects, with applause as scene after scene made familiar by the 1939 MGM movie came to life before their eyes.
But all that razzle dazzle came at a cost Thursday, as the storytelling was slowed at times by eye candy both high- and low-tech. More on that later.
Director Susan Baer Collins' lead players were so good at winning the audience over that nobody seemed to mind much when the final curtain ran past 2½ hours.
Those players include Noah Diaz as the cheery, loose-limbed and loyal Scarecrow and Noel Larrieu as a comical Cowardly Lion, a clear audience favorite. Kevin Olsen infuses the Tin Man with an extra dose of sentimentality and warmth. All three are in fine voice as they wish in song for a brain, a heart and the nerve.
Charlotte Hedican is a total charmer as Dorothy, fussing over her dog Toto as she tries to get back to Kansas. She does a beautiful job singing the iconic “Over the Rainbow,” overflowing with dreamy sincerity.
Sally Neumann Scamfer is just as good at playing bad, capturing the familiar inflections of both Almira Gulch and the Wicked Witch with scary authenticity. She's wicked fun.
Standouts in featured roles included Dawn Buller-Kirke as kindly Aunt Em/Glinda, Jerry Van Horn as Uncle Henry/Emerald City Guard, and Don Keelan-White as a blustery and befuddled Prof. Marvel/Wizard.
Even bit players left lasting impressions: tiny Ryan Laughlin as the lead Flying Monkey; Sophia Goldberg, Chelsey and Emily Hill as a harmonizing trio of apple trees; Hunter Mruz, Brock McCullough and Jason DeLong as crows mocking the Scarecrow. The kid chorus is constant fun as poppies, Munchkins and monkeys.
The range and volume of eye-popping costumes by Georgiann Regan's crew is awesome: Glinda's gown, the crows' zoot suits, the poppies, the slinky apple trees, Munchkins galore, Jitterbugs. And the same goes for Jim Othuse's scenic and lighting design, full of innovation, surprise, color and creativity.
Choreographer Roxanne Nielsen hits a home run with the Munchkinland sequence. But in a show that feels a tad long, I'd scale back the brush-up beautifying sequence in Emerald City and the Jitterbugs in the Haunted Forest.
Tornado video was impressive but felt like it, too, could be snipped — especially as Dorothy returns to Kansas. Actors clearly waited for balky video as the Wizard behind the curtain tries to frighten Dorothy and friends.
Not all Thursday's pacing problems were high-tech. Snappier cues and dialogue could shave minutes and infuse energy into slow spots as well.
But music director Jim Boggess' eight-piece orchestra did a bang-up job of echoing the familiar movie score, and the singing was strong throughout.
Tech week is all about smoothing bumps in the Yellow Brick Road. Collins and crew are no doubt already on top of that.
Meantime, this excellent cast, surrounded by a visual feast that will leave kids gaping at every turn, delivers massive doses of fun. Oz looks like a fine destination, all through June.
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