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“Wizard of Oz” at Capital Rep familiar family fun

By running the musical “The Wizard of Oz” until December 24, Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany proves what everyone already knows. There’s a reason so many people spend part of Thanksgiving morning trying to find the film on television.

Though the material has absolutely no reference at all to holidays, it’s an ideal show to attend during a festive season, especially if you bring kids. I suspect adults will be less thrilled with this production that is offered in a mostly by-the-numbers fashion.

This is not to say the production is without its strengths. The cast is ideal, the tech is great and the visuals colorful. It’s a solid production, but on opening night it played flat.

But, since it runs another four weeks, it’s not unreasonable to believe things will change as the performers relax and become more comfortable with their roles and each other.

The production stays true to the roots of the 1939 film. It also keeps the original score intact, plus adding the number “Jitterbug” which was cut from the film.

Each song is done nicely and though the band led by musical director Eric Svejcar is very good, their playing from the upstairs space makes the music seem detached from the action.

Dorothy is played wonderfully by Adia Bell, who is as endearing and filled with spunk and empathy as was Judy Garland in the film.

However, she makes the role her own as she sings in a manner that is truly satisfying to modern tastes. Her version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” immediately signals her approach to the role. She doesn’t belt it out as is usually done, instead she performs as if she was in an intimate cabaret space. It’s a lovely choice which signals her low-key approach to Dorothy.

Barbara Howard in no way resembles the original Glinda in looks or style, but Howard easily finds the gentle, comforting and encouraging nature of the character. She does the same with Auntie Em, making them seem two sides of the same coin. When near the end of the show, she joins Dorothy at the reprise of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” it was the kind of magic missing elsewhere in the production.

Though the story is about Dorothy’s journey to appreciating what is important in life, author L. Frank Baum included three non-human characters who also learn valuable life lessons. They are as important to the success of any version of “The Wizard of Oz” as is the lead role.

Best of the three is Kyle Garvin as the Cowardly Lion as he finds fun in his exaggeration of the creature’s fear about everything.

Taylor Hilt Mitchell is nicely limber as the Scarecrow, and Conor deVoe is properly stiff as the Tinman.

To their credit, none of the three try to replicate the films portrayals of the characters. The difference is Garvin has fun with his role, where the other two play the script – not adding oddball moments to their creations.

Katie Kay Francis is an example of why that improvement is nearly assured. She plays both the mean Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch. She works hard, very hard, to make mean people funny. She often succeeds, but without consistency.

Speaking of fun and energy, it is David Girard playing several roles, who brings the spirit missing in the rest of the effort.

He’s a delight every time he makes an appearance. It’s clear he’s having fun up there and the audience responds. A close second is Kevin McGuire who shines in multiple roles – but few are more fun than those he shares with Girard.

Perhaps the most adorable moments are those the members of cast share with Halo, the cute dog that plays Toto. If it was human, Halo would be the star of the show. As is, the dog steals every scene it is in.

The six person ensemble is filled with vitality as they create a tornado, exhausted villagers dancing until they drop and lovable Munchkins.

It’s an achievement because Freddy Ramirez’s choreography is as basic as everything else in the production, but it always looks marvelous, thanks to the fine dancers in the production.

The production will please a lot of people as director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill has done visual and tactical wonders producing this large show in the small confines of Capital Rep.

However, it will disappoint those who come to the familiar hoping for a fresh approach.

“The Wizard of Oz” at Capital Repertory Theatre, 251 N. Pearl Street, Albany. Through December 24. For tickets and schedule information call 518-346-6204 or go to capitalrep.org

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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