Conejo Players Theatre
351 W. Moorpark Rd, Thousand Oaks CA
Currently Playing thru April 10, 2016
Most Americans grew up with L. Frank Baum’s classic story, first as a theatrical release, then an annual televised event, followed by retold versions such as ‘The Wiz’ and the newer adaptation ‘Wicked.’ Now under the meticulous direction of Devery Holmes, local audiences have the opportunity to see Baum’s timeless tale come to life – complete with all the endearing nuances of live theatre.
The Players’ Dorothy is 16 year-old Quinn Martin, fresh from a stint on Nickelodeon TV, paired with her dog Toto (the Lovelle family’s amazingly well-trained Maltese Tilly), who hits all her entrances, exits, and even steals hot dogs on cue. Lesser performers might feel upstaged by such a well-trained animal, but Tilly merely compliments Holmes’ stellar cast. Jared Price gives a nimble Tinman and David Colville’s ever-blustery Cowardly Lion bounds and goofs his way across set designer Dick Johnson’s elaborately planned stage.
In such an ambitious production, it would be easy to lose smaller details, a cue here or an actor’s voice there, but sound designer Tim Reese has the cast miked and well-balanced, easily heard even from a back row. When the twister strikes and carries Dorothy to Oz, an effective projection screen creates a dizzying effect as Reese fills in the crashes and booms of a violent storm. Even when the Tin Man’s creaky limbs break free with the help of his trusty oil can, we hear it at just the right pitch.
Much to its staff’s credit, the Players’ ‘Wizard’ strikes the right balance between electronic gadgetry and traditional theatre. When the gang finally get in to see the Wizard (Ray Mastrovito), rather than simply projecting The Wizard’s image onto a screen, a set piece that looks suspiciously like Mastrovito is rolled out under dramatic lighting effect. Bellowing and blowing steam, the theatre experience is brought to the audience, rather than simply projecting what they could’ve stayed home and downloaded on Netflix.
Opening night audiences were treated to a particular version of the peculiarities of live theatre. Early in the first act, when Dorothy released the Scarecrow (Daniel Egan) from his perch, the Scarecrow performed a series of rubber-limbed moves. When the sold out audience adjourned to the patio during intermission, they watched an ambulance carry away a young man who looked very much like the limber and talented Scarecrow. Egan had thrown himself into his role, literally, and was headed toward the hospital. Without missing a beat, ensemble member Kyle Johnson stepped into the role for the second act so smoothly that, if not for the book in his hand, audiences might never have known they weren’t watching the same Scarecrow. ‘The show must go on,’ and it did so perfectly. In true theatrical fashion, Egan performed the rest of the weekend’s shows.
Musical directors Jim Holmes and Shelley Saxer keep the show’s score moving, and even loan out one of their musicians (Jennifer Bliman) who sets down her French horn long enough to perform backflips across the stage. Lighting director Jim Diderrich provides the infamous yellow brick road, and when the Wicked Witch (Kurt Raymond) throws a ball of flame at the scarecrow, it’s done by a clever special effects touch from effects wizard Mastrovito. Smaller touches are abundant, such as hair & make-up designer Christopher Mahr’s vision to don the Cowardly Lion’s hairdresser (Claire Harvey) in flowing, curly red locks that mirror her client’s. These little touches make the Players’ version of ‘Oz’ a unique theatrical experience.
One of the best reasons to see the stage production arrives during the second act: here you’ll have the chance to see and hear ‘The Jitterbug,’ the ‘lost’ song left out of the original film (you can find Judy Garland and the gang dancing thru it on YouTube). The number remains in the Players’ version, and provides Martin a showcase for some of her most adept moves. Additionally, the Scarecrow’s song is nicely extended to include three silly-dressed crows (Kyle Johnson, Andrew Nunez and Lauren Rachel) similar to those found in ‘The Wiz,’ who provide harmony and hilariously well-timed caws.
Like most stage productions, there will always be little differences between the live show and the version audiences have grown to love and memorize. And that’s most of the fun.
The Wizard of Oz
Thru April 10, 2016
Conejo Players Theatre
351 W. Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, CA
Tickets: 805-495-3715 or online at:
Tickets: $20 adult, $18 senior/student/military