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THEATER REVIEW 'THE WIZARD OF OZ' : Riveting Road Trip : Dorothy and her pals take to the yellow brick pathway in a stage production true to the classic film and full of special effects.

December 05, 1991|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

How about a little fire, Scarecrow?

There are pyrotechnics, special effects and plenty of fun to be had at PCPA Theaterfest's "The Wizard of Oz." It's a show that has something for everyone.

Even the first-rate performances take a back seat to eye-popping special effects. Fans of the MGM classic will marvel at the ingenuity with which their favorite scenes have been translated to the stage. And for youthful first-timers, who make up a sizable portion of the nearly sold-out run's audience, it would be hard to imagine a more engaging initiation.

More faithful to the film than to the original Oz books of L. Frank Baum, this play by John Kane was originally commissioned in 1987 by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It even features all those songs you can murmur in your sleep, plus a few surprises (including additional verses and a full production number, "The Jitterbug," which were cut from the film).

In the PCPA production, Angela J. Haag stars as Dorothy, the girl who high-tails it to the fantasy land of Oz on the coattails of a tornado when the high pressure responsibilities of growing up become a little too overwhelming.

Joining her quest for a return ticket are those archetypal companions, the Tin Woodsman in search of a heart (Gregg Coffin), the Lion who lacks courage (Charlie Bachmann) and the Scarecrow (Brad Carroll) who could solve all their problems if he only had a brain. Although all three turn in commendable performances, it's Carroll who proves the most memorable. Coming on like a quadruple-jointed contortionist and constantly leaking straw, he always seems to be just this side of coming apart at the seams.

Jennifer Bledsoe is a scream--literally--as the Wicked Witch. And although Michael Fitzpatrick's Wizard is competent, he's upstaged by his own mechanical alter ego when our heroes enter the Great Hall to ask his assistance.

Judith Ryerson's stunning costume designs play the biggest nonperforming role in making this a believable trip to Oz. Not only are the principals perfectly garbed, but throughout the show we're constantly amazed and delighted by the inventive supporting characters--enormous crow puppets that assault the Scarecrow, for example, or the trio of apple trees that croon like the Andrews Sisters and hurl their fruit in a fit of pique. And as a sucker for little kids on stage, I found Ryerson's transformation of 17 youngsters into the citizens of Munchkinland irresistible.

With all its shifting locations and serious prop requirements, the considerable scenic design challenge is deftly handled by Norm Spencers.

A veteran director of some of PCPA's most memorable musicals, Jack Shouse returns from a yearlong hiatus. And he is in top form. This "Wizard of Oz" is a family treat. The only down side is that going to Santa Maria to see it is somewhat like taking a trip to Disneyland. But it's just as much fun, you'll get out of there a lot faster, and even make it home with some spare change in your pocket.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"The Wizard of Oz" will be performed through Dec. 22 at the Allan Hancock College's Marian Theatre in Santa Maria. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays; matinees are on Wednesdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10-$17 for adults; up to four children's tickets may be purchased with each adult ticket for half the adult admission price. Tickets are available through all TicketMaster outlets, or call (800) 221-9469 for reservations or information.

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