Family Friendly “The Wizard of Oz” at Encore (review)


There’s a fun, family-friendly Wizard of Oz currently on the boards at The Encore Musical Theatre Company. Its not all smooth sailing, but it will please its target market (i.e. families with young kids) and is sure to be a sell-out throughout the holiday season.

What works well? The cast, the set, the costumes, the remarkable projections, and the material itself which is critic and audience-proof. This production uses the British 1987 RSC version of the adaptation of the MGM movie musical (it expands on some of the music and dialogue, though not significantly so). There are terrific performances from Gayle E Martin as the Cowardly Lion, Dan Morrison as the Tinman (who remarkably does not break his neck walking up and down and dancing on the steep raked steps of the set), and Nick Brown as the Scarecrow. There is a fantastic performance from Daniel A Helmer as Professor Marvel/The Guard/The Wizard — and a great video special effect features him larger than life. Wendy Katz Hiller is a fine and nasty Wicked Witch of the West (though beware, the RSC version of the show gives her groaner one-liners, ugh). Lawrence Havelka continues to grow as an actor in the role of Uncle Henry, and audience favorite Lauren Norris has fun in the dual-role of Aunt Em/Glinda. There are rotating Dorothy’s (pretty-voiced Mariah Colby at my performance) with Maeve Donevan and Jennie Rupp at others.  There is a fine (though under-utilized) adult ensemble, and an all-female children’s ensemble of Munchkins.

What doesn’t work that well? An all-female children’s ensemble of Munchkins for one (even at a children’s level, boys are in demand, and there are 18 local holiday productions this season). There is some choreography by Phil  Simmons which doesn’t always create stage magic. And while there is a very detailed multi-level set, it isn’t always well utilized. Characters don’t always “connect”, and there wasn’t an underlying level of emotion – so that by the time you get to Dorothy’s goodbye to Scarecrow, its more of a “whatever”.

But there are excellent (partially rented) costumes and set pieces. The projections are remarkable not only for their style, but for the most technical production ever at Encore. Snow on the poppyfield is magical. The Wizard effect is riveting (even if it did not work later in the show). Oh, and then there is the Winkie Marching song, which I’ve been humming all day.

But problems aside, this is a fun two-hour holiday production, and all the children sitting around me last night were rapt in paying attention to the live story on stage — and really, that’s all you can ask for with a production of The Wizard of Oz. (Well, plus also that Winkie song).

The Wizard of Oz continues at The Encore Musical Theatre Company through December 23rd. Tickets at, or 734-268-6200



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