Don’t make me cry, you two, I’m going to rust. (Photo of Preston Wilder and Camryn Macdonald by Canna Zhou)
I’ve seen The Wizard of Oz approximately one million times, so there weren’t a lot of surprises for me in this CTORA Theatre production. But CTORA Theatre itself is surprising and there’s some very nice work in this show.
CTORA, which once stood for Children’s Theatre of Richmond Association but is now, I’m told, just an acronym — I don’t get it; the company needs a better name, right? — has been around since 2017. They’re into championing “young and emerging artists” while “delivering quality performances.”
Directed by Mark Carter, this production is slick and, although CTORA is a non-profit, this Wizard is clearly well funded. A team of six — count ’em!* — costume designers, has created scores of costumes to clothe the multiply-cast ensemble of 25, and a lot of them are terrific. Lion’s costume, with its flowing dreadlocks and pattable chest ruff springs to mind, and so do the parasols made of giant single blossoms that the Munchkins carry. Then there are the poppies with their Elizabethan collars of scarlet petals, and Glinda’s cloud-like gown, which twinkles more than the Milky Way. These explosions of colour and light take place on Brian Ball’s effectively minimalist set. Ball uses an elegantly framed circular screen to set the scenes, which he does with a sepia palette.
That said, Act 1 of The Wizard of Oz is still a bit of a slog for me at this point in my life: there’s a lot of set-up and I know where it’s going.
Overall, there are a few choices that I question. Act 2 of the 1987 Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation, which CTORA is using, reintroduces the musical number, “The Jitterbug”, which was featured in the 1939 musical film. To me, this number weakens the narrative tension: it feels superfluous. The video sequence of the storm goes on too long, and the presentation of the Munchkins is inconsistent: some of them are kids (full-size), some are adults on their knees, and some are adults standing up. What?
But there’s a lot more to like in the larger scheme. Carmyn Macdonald sings pleasingly as Dorothy and she’s a knockout young actress: every time her Dorothy choked with emotion, I was right there with her.
Because Jonathan Gagne seemed unsure of himself as the farmhand Zeke, I was worried about what he was going to do with Lion, but I needn’t have been. His Lion is charmingly spontaneous and innocently fey.
Keith MacMillan delivers a sweetly openhearted portrait of Scarecrow and he certainly has the flexibility for the part; I just wish he’d kept more of that looseness in his overall characterization (i.e. when he wasn’t dancing or doing specific business).
You couldn’t ask for a better Tinman than the one Preston Wilder delivers. Wilder keeps Tinman’s creekiness going for the entire show, a choice I’ve never seen before, and one that really works: the detail this brings to his physicality is endlessly arresting. Wilder sings in a sweet tenor, tap dances like a dream, and delivers an emotional performance that’s so pure that when his Tinman was bidding farewell to Dorothy and said, “I know I have a heart because it’s breaking,” I stifled sobs.
I also particularly enjoyed Jennie Neumann’s Glinda: Neumann adds more than a touch of sarcastic vinegar to the character’s sweetness, which is an excellent way to go.
And here’s a shoutout to Arya, the little cairn terrier who’s playing Toto. On opening night, Arya was as amiable as all get-out, tail wagging constantly, but she was not cooperating: that laser pointer might have been fascinating during rehearsals, but it couldn’t compete with the sensory overload of live performance. Arya’s happy irreverence was, of course, scene-stealing.
I’m glad I’ve met CTORA and I look forward to their next show — hopefully with less familiar material.
THE WIZARD OF OZ Adapted from the book by L. Frank Baum. Music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Directed by Mark Carter. A CTORA Theatre production. The Cultch. On Friday, November 3. Playing at the Granville Island Stage until November 12. Tickets and information
*The costume designers on this production are Lily Yuan, Jaimie Levers, Emma Blu Pabuaya, Fiona Raavita, Judy Cerny, and Julie White.
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