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THEATER REVIEW: Moonlight’s “The Wizard Of Oz”

You know you’re in trouble when you hear the unmistakable crackly-cackly voice of the Wicked Witch of the West coming at your from the rear of the theater ... especially when that theater is outdoors and you just know she could come riding right over you on her broom at any second.

It’s the latest, smashing surround-sound musical version of L. Frank Baum’s beloved “The Wizard Of Oz,” playing through Aug. 10 at Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre.

But let’s begin at the beginning, and meet sweet little Dorothy Gale (Carlin Castellano), who lives on that Kansas farm with Aunt Em (Laura Douciere), Uncle Henry (Ralph Johnson) and her adorable dog Toto (Munchkin; yep, that’s the name).

Dorothy gets grief from their nasty neighbor Miss Gultch (Danette Holland), always complaining about Toto invading her sacred garden and uprooting the vegetables. This time she’s really on the warpath, bringing a sheriff’s order (“I have friends in high places!”) to take Toto away, where he will be destroyed.

Toto escapes his fate, so what can Dorothy do but leave home and take Toto with her?

A convenient twister takes them out of Kansas and plops them down in Munchkinland, where she meets the good witch Glinda (Laura Douciere) and
begins her familiar adventures with the Scarecrow (Stephen Petrovich), the Tinman (Carson Twitchell), the Cowardly Lion (Randall Dodge), the Wizard (Jim Chovick) and of course that horrible Wicked Witch of the West (Danette Holland).

Roger Castellano directs and choreographs this version of the show, which was developed by England’s Royal Shakespeare Company and hews closely to the film. The terrific sets and costumes come from a Madison Square Garden production that later toured the U.S.

It’s an extremely effective visual spectacle, the somber black-and-gray palette of the opening Kansas sequence giving way to the bright, almost garish colors of Dorothy’s imaginary trip to Munchkinland and Oz. The whole is heightened by projections, enlivened by a top-drawer cast who can all act and sing splendidly and put talent and energy into Castellano’s terrific choreography. Music director Elan McMahan expertly marshals her excellent 20-person forces in the pit.

Castellano’s Dorothy is a delight. She looks right, sings like an angel and can dance and act as well.

The three friends – Petrovich’s Scarecrow, Twitchell’s Tinman and especially Dodge, seen as never before as the furry Cowardly Lion from Brooklyn – are endearing, and so are the crowd scenes with the Munchkins, Poppies and Winkies.

Douciere is lovely as Glinda, properly harried as Aunt Em. Holland is wonderfully awful as both Miss Gultch and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Jim Chovick is a hoot as Professor Marvel, the Wizard and The Gatekeeper. And here’s a shout-out to the fabulous Crows, with great costumes and enviable singing and dancing skills.

A shout-out to the tech crew as well – Paul A. Canaletti’s lighting and Christopher Luessmann’s sound designs add immeasurably to the experience.

There is no weak spot in this show. Get your tickets now. And listen for that surround sound.

The details

“The Wizard of Oz” plays through Aug. 10 at Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace Drive (in Brengle Terrace Park), Vista.

Wednesday through Sunday at 8 pm.

Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.