Good defeats wicked, tapping its ruby slippers and singing great songs along the way.
The Cape Symphony Orchestra and the Cotuit Center for the Arts staged a live version of “The Wizard of Oz” Saturday afternoon at the Barnstable Performing Arts Center, bringing the gushing classic to the stage with live orchestra, live actors and Toto too.
The CSO, directed by Jung-Ho Pak, took a back seat for once to the estimable CCFTA team, directed by Michele Colley. This re-imagining of the 1939 film had the orchestra playing the score, with video backdrop, and a talented cast acting out Dorothy’s adventures in Oz on a narrow ribbon of stage. Moving the complicated narrative along was a balancing act, and a half-dozen stellar actors brought impressive versatility to the task.
Jessica Curran played the Kansas kid in the gingham dress. Keirnon McDermott, Anthony Teixeira, and Jeffrey Clonts played her stuffed, tin and timorous friends, respectively. Eileen Fendler had that wickedly good laugh and green face down pat, and Kami Lyle gave Glinda a magical, exotic air.
Singing, narrating, dancing their way from Kansas to Oz and back, the actors kept us on the brick road all the way. It wasn’t easy—there are lots of challenges bringing a familiar film favorite successfully to the stage.
Curran’s Dorothy led the cast, but hardly stole the spotlight. She sang all the hits—kicking it right off with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” even before the twister strikes. Curran sounded sweetly strong in the highest registers, and she exuded a genuine aw-shucks personality. McDermott, Teixeria and Clonts created spot-on characterizations as well. Each had a moment—Clonts perhaps a few more moments than the others, as the cowardly crowd-pleaser, as much a ham as a king of the forest.
Colley’s choreography had the action blocked to perfection, navigating a narrow strip of space along the edge of the stage that snaked around through the orchestra.
A large production team from CCFTA made everyone look, sing and act appropriately—even that little dog, too. The all-ages chorus sang robustly in multiple smaller ensembles, and believably acted out various munchkins, guards and citizens of Oz. A harmonizing intro to “If I Only Had a Heart” by a quintet of jazzy young singers was startlingly fresh, and even the munchkin kids had a cold entrance with the orchestra—impressively timed. “Jitterbug”—cut from the original film—was hot.
After eight decades, the dialogue still sounds clever and idiomatic. Herbert Stothart’s orchestral score is accompaniment mostly, leaving the orchestra in a back-up role. A few doublings of Scarecrow’s vocal in “If I Only Had a Brain” from piccolo, oboe and trumpet sounded through nicely, but most of the orchestra’s work got overshadowed sonically and theatrically.
But the songs. Arlen (lyrics by Yip Harburg) wrote some musical-theater classics for this tale—not dense or virtuosic, but memorably melodic. The tunes underneath “Over the Rainbow,” “If I Only Had” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard” never get tired.
With everyone miked up, it got loud at some points, and balance was not always achieved. Some dropped lines were quickly tidied up by quick-thinking actors. But those were small matters: in the end, this beautiful collaboration brought the Merry Old Land of Oz happily to the stage.
The next Cape Symphony performance will be an all-Beethoven concert featuring pianist Martina Filjak on April 6 and 7 in the Barnstable Performing Arts Center. For tickets and information visit www.capesymphony.org or call 508-362-1111.