‘Wizard of Oz’ at Capital Rep entertaining, overlong


ALBANY — The only thing more colorful and exuberant than the costumes in Capital Repertory Theatre’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” is the acting.

The 14-member cast, under the direction of Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, finds evident joy in the theatricality of the material. With invaluable assists from the design team, they take every opportunity to exploit the abundant fun to be had in creating outsize personas in service of a story and melodies so ingrained in American culture that broad swaths of the population across five generations are at least slightly familiar with them, even if, somehow, they haven’t actually seen the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland. The production opened Tuesday and runs through Dec. 24.

“The Wizard of Oz”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Capital Repertory Theatre, 251 N. Pearl St., Albany
Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission
Continues: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 18. No performance Thanksgiving Day. Additional matinee, 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30. Christmas week only, 7 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, Dec. 20 to 23, and noon on Dec. 24.
Tickets: $27 to $64.50
Info: 518-346-6204 and capitalrep.org


Originally planned for the pandemic-disrupted inaugural season at The Rep’s new home, this “Wizard of Oz” uses a version written for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987. The book was adapted by John Kane from the original screenplay, which was itself based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” It preserves the most memorable songs from the movie (music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg), including the tenacious earworms “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road/We’re Off to See the Wizard,” “If I Only Had a Brain” and of course “Over the Rainbow,” the latter coming near the beginning and getting two reprises at the end.

The production feels every bit of its 2½-hour running time. I can’t say with any authority whether the eye-popping stage business would keep the attention of a bright 8- or 10-year-old who loves the movie and/or book, but I do know that this grinchy adult thought several times, “Here we go again with another extended dance break/musical bit/swirling phantasmagorical transition. How lucky for us!”

Among the delights of The Rep’s “Wizard of Oz” is watching some of the company’s frequent actors tear into multiple roles. David Girard, better known for the serious avant-garde theater he does as artistic director of Troy Foundry Theatre, hams it up hilariously as Dorothy’s Uncle Henry, a Munchkin leader, the mustachioed gatekeeper at the Wizard of Oz’s palace and leader of the Flying Monkeys. Barbara Howard is warmly earnest as Aunt Em and glamorous as Glinda the Good Witch. And the grandly entertaining Kevin McGuire plays a fortune-telling professor in Kansas, a Munchkin mayor and the Wizard of Oz, who is imperious until being revealed for the charlatan he is.

Among the newcomers or more recent additions to The Rep’s family, Kyle Garvin, who was the best member of the ensemble of The Rep’s production of “Jersey Boys” this past summer, makes a welcome return in perfect casting as the Cowardly Lion. (It seems inconceivable that Mancinelli-Cahill, having directed him in both shows, isn’t mulling multiple future roles suited to his talents.) Katie Fay Francis exudes cackling, florid malevolence as Almira Gultch and the Wicked Witch, and Taylor Hilt Mitchell as Scarecrow and Connor DeVoe as Tinman are both excellent as singers, dancers and Dorothy sidekicks.

Adia Bell makes her debut at The Rep as Dorothy, and, though she gets to sing “Over the Rainbow” three times, the role is a challenge, because Dorothy is the most normal, fully human character. She needs to be a believable kid, bratty enough to run away but loving enough to yearn to be back with her farm family, and anyone playing Dorothy is burdened with having to utter lines like, “There’s no place like home” and “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” frequently misremembered as “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” They’re iconic but not exactly Shakespearean. Pleasant to watch if not a standout, Bell doesn’t really shine until Dorothy duets with Glinda on “Over the Rainbow,” with Bell seeming to gain confidence from Howard’s powerful voice.

Designers continue to show the expansive, transformative possibilities of The Rep’s broad, open stage. Frank J. Oliva’s set, with four frames that get progressively smaller as they move upstage, is an ideal canvas for Nathan W. Scheuer projections and Ron Denton’s lighting; Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s costumes are extravagantly imaginative and playful; and music director/keyboardist Eric Svejcar leads an accomplished six-member band, piped in from an upstairs room.

To invoke another seasonal grump, I don’t wish to be too much of a Scrooge when I say that while I understand The Rep feels it needs fun, family-friendly entertainment during the holiday season, I don’t know why it had to be “The Wizard of Oz.” The 2022-23 year — from “Jersey Boys” in the summer to “Dracula” in October, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” this coming spring and “Honky Tonk Angels” next summer — feels light, familiar, aside from the world-premiere drama “Secret Hour” in January and February. Between the pandemic and getting audiences to grow more comfortable with coming to The Rep’s new location, the company faces difficult programming choices. Here’s hoping “The Wizard of Oz” is a useful building block toward future seasons.   







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