Compass Rose Theater’s production of The Wizard of Oz is a colorful musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s classic novel and the film based on it. With music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Edgar Harburg, it blends comedy with deep emotion. Directed by Lucinda Merry-Browne, with Anita O’Conner as musical director and Lindsey Zetter as choreographer, the show makes great use of Compass Rose’s new space at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.
Ivy Van Wormer brings an innocence mixed with a fierce sense of justice as Dorothy. She rails against Miss Gulch (Shelby Young) taking Toto, as well as all those who let her. She slaps the Lion (Abigail Weinel) for trying to scare folks. She gives longing to “Over the Rainbow” and energetic passion to “We’re Off to See the Wizard.”
Hunter Miles plays the Scarecrow with great comic bumbling, tripping and stumbling as he gets his legs. His “If I Only Had a Brain” is wonderfully funny.
Andy Collins brings a great physical presence to the Tin Man, sitting stock still at his first appearance, muttering “oil can” through clenched teeth. Explaining his origin, he proudly shows off each limb, while frequently asking for more oil. “If I Only Had a Heart” is filled with passion.
Abigail Weinel is a hoot as The Cowardly Lion. With an old-time “tough guy” New York accent, she bullies the others at first, threatening them, before the tears start. She reluctantly leads the group to rescue Dorothy, asking them to “Talk me out of it!” “If I Only Had the Nerve” is great fun, as is “If I Were King of the Forest,” which has Weinel singing in comically high diction and using vocal flourishes. As Auntie Em, she is busy with farmwork to pay much attention to Dorothy’s complaints.
Shelby Young is deliciously evil as both the Wicked Witch of the West and Miss Gulch. Her puns and insults against the others are wonderfully funny. Her screams are perfect, when she sees her sister crushed under Dorothy’s house, and at her death scene.
Noelle Wiser brings a calmness to Glinda the Good Witch, giving needed information and insight to Dorothy and company. Greg Anderson gives Uncle Henry a firmness as he subtly jabs Miss Gulch, then orders her to leave the farm. As the palace guard, he swerves between following orders (“No one sees the Wizard!”) and breaking them to help Dorothy.
Matt Leyendecker plays both Professor Marvel and Oz with a great combination of charm, flim-flam, and heart. As Professor Marvel, he thinks on his feet to convince Dorothy to return home. As Oz, he figures out how to give everyone what they really need. There is a tender moment when, addressing the Tin Man, he considers how lucky it must be not having a heart, for “a heart can be broken.” As the Wizard, he is terrifyingly commanding, ordering the group to “come again tomorrow” after they have fulfilled their end of the bargain.
Nilsson Benil and Lara Dugdale are wonderfully expressive as Munchkins. They swing Dorothy around with them while joyfully singing “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” and are gratefully appreciative in “The Lollipop Guild.” Benil and Dugdale are commanding as the Witch’s servants, the Winkies. Dugdale is just as expressive as Nikko, the Witch’s flying monkey, chittering in response to Young’s comments. Buddy is remarkably well-trained as Toto, barking on command and entering and exiting when needed.
Set Designer Lucinda Merry-Browne makes clever use of the stage. Stairs on the right lead to a balcony that serves as a prison tower, hayloft, and balloon basket. Several windows open in the center for characters such as trees, crows, and Winkies to peer out, and two near the bottom are large enough for actors to enter and exit.
Lighting Designer Marianne Meadows creates dramatic lighting effects. The Witch appears with flashes of lightning, and the stage is bathed in a spooky green light for the Wizard’s dramatic appearances.
Music Director Anita O’Conner ensures that the music never overpowers the singing or dialogue. Accompanist David Calvin Robbins is a joy to listen to on the piano, or creating sound effects, such as doors being broken open. During scene changes, it is a pleasure watching him play.
Choreographer Lindsey Zetter has created lots of lovely movements for the actors, from the Scarecrow’s comedic falls to the wonderful dance number in “Jitterbug.” Lucinda Merry-Browne does a fantastic job as director. The actors sing with power, capturing both the emotional and the comic moments. The Wizard of Oz is great fun for children of all ages, a joyous, song-filled journey “Over the Rainbow.”
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
The Wizard of Oz plays through May 21, 2023, presented by Compass Rose Theater performing on the third floor of Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts – 801 Chase Street, Annapolis, MD. For tickets ($25–$55), purchase online.
COVID Safety: Masks are encouraged for all performances but optional inside the building and theater.