Theater review

MSMT’s ‘Wizard of Oz’: Memorable magic

Sat, 08/10/2019 - 12:15pm

You’ll be over the rainbow for Maine State Music Theater’s season finale “The Wizard of Oz” on stage through Aug. 24. This colorful, outstanding production rates four enthusiastic broomsticks!

Taken straight from the original film version of L. Frank Baum’s beloved classic, with the addition of the “Jitterbugs” (cut from the film to shorten it) the show returned to the MSMT stage for the first time since 1961 when Margaret Hamilton herself reprised her role as the iconic Wicked Witch of the West.

The special effects were wicked cool. First off, our talented, imaginative friends at MSMT had Almira Gulch flying on her bicycle during the cyclone scene, which, by the way, was created through lighting, whirling screen imagery and dancers in black with lightning bolt-like symbols, sounds … it was fantastic! I think we were all “blown away” by that twister!

The glitteringly gorgeous Glinda was also airborne. All the flying – orchestrated by Foy – added another layer of magical depth to this production. Oh! And then … remember the guard at the door in the Emerald City who initially refuses to let Dorothy and company see the Wizard? Well … he’s like 17 feet tall, has a giant head, and his limbs will remind you of the old Erector sets some of us played with as kids in the 60s.

Oh! This is really clever: the Yellow Brick Road isn’t a thing. It’s alive and portrayed by the yellow clad Michael Olaribigbe’s acrobatic dancing.

And while I’m on the subject of visuals … you know how there are certain images of fictional and real people that are forever ingrained in your memory? For instance, The Beatles in the crosswalk on Abbey Road; the Sex and The City quartet walking side by side down the streets of NYC, and … Dorothy and Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man on the Yellow Brick Road. It was a real teary moment for me seeing them onstage together, arm-in-arm. I’m getting the same goosebumps now that I had Thursday night at the show. Watching them I flashed briefly to the original beloved four actors continuing on to the Emerald City followed by memory flashes of myself as a kid watching the film every year on TV with my sister Paula – back when it was an annual special like Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” with Lesley Anne Warren and Stuart Damon …

For anyone out there who’s not a fan (and I just can’t believe that, really I can’t), the special effects, performances, songs, costumes and clever liberties taken with some of the creatures met along the Yellow Brick Road will more than keep you entertained. Truly.

Those beloved primary characters are brought to life at MSMT by Carolyn Anne Miller (Dorothy), Marc Robin (Scarecrow), Ian Knauer (Tin Man) and David Girolmo (Cowardly Lion). Oops! I almost forgot the fifth beloved character, Toto, played by Tootsie and Zelda. Thursday night it was Zelda and she, like all pups in shows, was a scene stealer.

The performances are all spot on. I always loved the Scarecrow and Robin makes him just as endearing. Loved his “If I Only Had A Brain” and dancing as Scarecrow’s strength builds up in his legs. But then, Robin is the show’s co-choreographer along with MSMT Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark. This extremely talented duo also co-directed. The dance numbers are, as always, spectacular, a feast of movement and footwork and completely captivating.

Girolmo’s Cowardly Lion is hilarious, disarming and … you just want to give him a big bear hug! Whoa, wait, make that just a plain big hug. He’s kinda afraid of bears ...

And I think you’ll agree, after you’ve seen the show, that the apple trees in the haunted forest deliver a delightful twist of unexpected humor … very clever, indeed, MSMT.

And no review of “The Wizard of Oz” would be complete without attention being paid to the Wicked Witch of the West. Susan Cella’s WWW was darkly playful. She used her character’s malevolent reputation throughout the land of Oz to instill fear, helplessness and a sense of impending doom in our beloved foursome. Although, the scene in which she’s running down her list of charms and maladies with the captain of her flying monkeys is a scream.

Through Miller, that honest, innocent teenaged girl, loved by generations of film fans, comes back to life. Living on a farm in rural Kansas doesn’t come close to preparing Dorothy for the adventure awaiting her in Oz. Miller’s Dorothy is that sweet kid with a huge heart and voice that takes us over that rainbow ...

And, if you’re from Boothbay or Newcastle, among the munchkins, Emerald City folk and snowflakes, you’ll spy Sophia Scott and Andrew Lyndaker working their youthful magic on stage.

The outstanding, colorful, gorgeous costumes were designed by Travis M. Grant – and they are show stoppers - who couldn’t believe they were Glinda the Good Witch or a flying monkey wearing costumes such as these? The range of bright colors add a richness to this show. A couple favorites for me are Scarecrow, the poppies, and the flying monkeys … and the witch … I just adored them all. And I’m not the only one; there was a great deal of conversation about the costumes as audience members were making their way to their cars. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Ham and Helen Meserve were in the audience Thursday night, too. Clark introduced them as special guests, had the lights brought back up and asked Ham, Margaret Hamilton’s son,  to let everyone know where he was. He did, and was greeted with thunderous applause from the audience. During intermission, the Meserves went backstage where they met MSMT’s Wicked Witch and Dorothy. 

Said Ham of the experience, “Opening night of Wizard at Maine State Music Theater was  special for me as I had never seen a live professional production with Equity actors. Fine acting, singing and dancing. Great energy. You're swept along the Yellow Brick Road. Especially enjoyed Susan Cella's portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West, a role my mother, Margaret Hamilton, played in the 1939 movie and again in MSMT's inaugural 1961 season 50 years ago. It was during that run that Mother discovered the Boothbay peninsula and six months later she and I bought Cape Island in Newagen Harbor which has been our Maine home base for four generations ever since.”

Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the Yellow Brick Road … to the stage at Maine State Music Theater. Tickets are on sale now – and bring the kids! They will love it. Two more 2 p.m. matinees have been added to Saturday, Aug. 10 and Friday, Aug. 16. The show runs through Aug. 24. Want tickets? Visit or call 725-8769.