"The Wizard of Oz" isn't particularly known for its subtlety or intimacy, but that's exactly what the charming new Music Circus production offers.
Director Glenn Casale has created a show with a suitable amount of spectacle for the familiar story, which, of course, includes magical happenings and surreal settings.
What works best, though, are the characters' emotional connections and their affecting loyalty and devotion to one another.
L. Frank Baum's story, with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, has become a major cultural phenomenon through Victor Fleming's classic 1939 MGM Technicolor film and the iconic performances it contains. The tale has clearly maintained its cultural currency, as shown by the long-running Broadway hit "Wicked," as well as Disney's recently released prequel "Oz the Great and Powerful."
Using a Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation, Casale and his design crew creatively mimic the familiar "Oz" palette, beginning and ending in muted, sepia-toned costumes, but brilliantly transforming into a rainbow panorama during the play's middle sections.
Baum's tight plot introduces audiences to the sweet-natured Kansas farm girl Dorothy Gale (an effortlessly charming Emily Walton) who lives with her Aunt Em, Uncle Henry and their amiable farmhands Hunk, Zeke and Hickory. The characters all find alter egos in the fantastic Land of Oz, where Dorothy lands after a twister hits the farm.
Jim Walton, Jamie Torcellini and Shannon Stoeke are the farmhands who become the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tinman, respectively. Searching for brains, courage and a heart, while trying to help Dorothy get home, the three form a fast friendship with the young woman, along with a fateful sense of purpose. They all give strong individual performances that naturally inhabit the characters.
Complementing the hopeful story are solid renditions of Arlen and Harburg's terrific songs. Opening with Watson's beautifully aching solo of "Over the Rainbow" and following the continued refrain of "If I Only Had a Brain," the songs conjure their own powerful resonance through their familiarity and emotion.
There are also smartly executed celebratory numbers in "Munchkinland," "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead" and "Merry Old Land of Oz," featuring the adult ensemble and the Music Circus Junior Company. Richard Bay's puppets add a clever element to cornfield scenes and the Wizard's oversize visage.
The company also benefits from Heather Lee's graceful presence as Aunt Em and Glinda the Good Witch, and Bill Nolte's genial Professor Marvel/Wizard of Oz.
True to Baum's original work, this family-friendly production includes occasional dark imagery and dialogue. And while there are flying monkeys and witches, it's the heartfelt grounding of the familiar story that most impresses.
THE WIZARD OF OZ
What: The Music Circus production Where: The Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday; 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Matinees are 2 p.m. Thursday and Saturday
Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission
Call The Bee's Call The Bee's Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.