CREEDE — “We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz.”
I can’t tell you how many times I heard that song growing up, and hearing it at Creede Repertory Theatre during their production of “The Wizard of Oz” Saturday night brought back “wonderful wizard” memories.
Like many others in the audience, I had grown up watching the musical featuring Judy Garland year after year and have even read some of Mr. Baum’s other lesser-known works of fantasy.
I loved it. I could sing most of the words with the cast Saturday night as they followed the yellow brick road through this L. Frank Baum classic. (I didn’t remember “The Jitterbug” song, but that is because it was cut from the 1939 soundtrack.)
CRT’s lineup this year may be their best yet with popular plays like “9 to 5” and “Barefoot in the Park.” “The Wizard of Oz” might be the most stellar of the bunch.
It is incredibly choreographed, staged and performed as the skilled actors take us all back to that magical land of Oz where Dorothy and Toto (a real dog in the beginning and end and a puppet in between) try to find their way back home to Kansas, with a little help from their friends.
“Props” go to the prop makers who made every scene magical right through to the Emerald City. The side walls of the stage changed with the scenes, and a platform above the band expertly staged the entrances of the Good Witch and others. Speaking of the band, what a treat to have such a rich sound from four musicians — Ian LeRoy, McKinley Foster, Krista Koper and Vita Cleveland.
The choreography of this production is fantastic. With no more than CRT’s main stage to display every scene from Kansas to Oz, the choreography is even more crucial to creating the illusions of spinning houses in tornadoes and putting Dorothy and her gang to sleep in a poppy field.
The ensemble of Rachel Maria Ines, Scott Kuiper, Heidi Carann Snider and Kietraille Sutton got an incredible physical workout during the performance as they danced and sang multiple numbers — and served as puppeteers!
Yael Chanukov, who is a newcomer to the CRT stage, was so believable as Dorothy that I could close my eyes and see Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Every actor was so amazing it was hard to find a favorite. I have always loved the scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion who accompany Dorothy on her quest to Oz, and these are played so well respectively by Regina Fernandez, Claudio Venancio and Antony Terrell, who of course double as the farm hands from Kansas (very minor criticism, the people I know from Kansas do not sound like “hillbillies,” but I did love the Spanish thrown in throughout the play.)
If I had to pick, though, I might have to say Anne Faith Butler as the Wicked Witch was one of my favorites, and of course actress Caitlin Wise was perfectly cast as the Good Witch Glinda.
What CRT production would be complete, though, without Christy Brandt, and we were honored to see her as the wizard herself (sorry for the gender change, Mr. Baum) as well as the wise Professor Marvel.
In addition to the expert music, choreography and staging, the production was sprinkled with humor that added to the delightful experience.
As if CRT needed one more sign it made the right choice with this production, the oldest surviving Munchkin Jerry Maren passed away not long before the play opened in Creede. Jerry, the “Lollipop Kid” who presented his lollipop to Dorothy in the 1939 “Wizard of Oz” movie, died on May 24 at age 99.
The Oz mantel has been passed on to you, CRT, and you have taken it up well.
“The Wizard of Oz” will play in repertoire all summer until August 26, so be sure to make time this summer to follow the yellow brick road to Creede to experience one of CRT’s best shows yet!
Caption: Actress Caitlin Wise, in her Auntie Em costume (who also transforms herself into the Good Witch Glinda), center, visits with a young fan following the June 9th performance of “The Wizard of Oz” at Creede Repertory Theatre’s Main Stage. Also shown from left are Yael Chanukov (Dorothy), Antony Terrell (Zeke and the Cowardly Lion), Zayaz Da Camara (Uncle Henry and the Emerald City Guard) and Rachel Maria Ines, ensemble member./Courier photo by Ruth Heide