‘Wizard of Oz’ an absolute delight at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts

A stellar cast, solid direction, and an imaginative technical crew bring the classic motion picture to life onstage.

Riverside Center for the Performing Arts presents L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, based on the classic motion picture and adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Patrick A’Hearn directs this highly anticipated production, with music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Music for this production is directed by David Landrum, with a live orchestra supervised and conducted by Carson Ebank. An exceptional cast expertly delivers nostalgic performances and song-and-dance numbers, easily making this one of the best received Riverside productions to date. Simply put, it’s The Wizard of Oz — what’s not to love?

Scene from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Scenic designer Christian Fleming uses aged wooden slats to create the muted, dreary Kansas farm, scattered with misshapen hay bales and worn farming equipment. The sweeping “yellow brick road” is there too, except it’s made from the same old, bare wooden boards used in the rest of the set. The road will later transform through lighting designed by Mike Jarett and operated by Kieran Greene. As on the silver screen, it’s color and light that bring life to the stage, along with lively projections and sound effects designed and engineered by Cheyenne Tenda and Bill Carrol. The technical elements of this show are exhaustive and demanding (Tornadoes! Poppy fields! Flying Monkeys!), and the team does a fantastic job bringing the land of Oz to life onstage thanks to the work of an expansive team led by master carpenter Christopher Hudert.

We begin on a somber note with Dorothy (Rebecca Carroll) and her family’s farmhands being scolded for playing when they should be working (“A farm’s no place for fun,” says Auntie Em, played by Andrea Kahane). Dorothy sings about wishing for a happier life in her song “Over the Rainbow” with clear, gorgeous vocals. Her luck worsens when their nasty neighbor Almira Gulch (Kathy Halenda, who later takes on the role of the Wicked Witch of the West) demands that they hand over Dorothy’s beloved dog Toto (to the audience’s delight, he’s played by a real dog!) after claiming that he bit her. Refusing to relinquish her dog, Dorothy decides to run away with him despite the fact that the weather has turned severe. She comes upon a wandering mystic (Robert Biederman, who later plays the Wizard of Oz himself), who encourages her to return home to her aunt, who is surely sick with worry. Touched by this reveal, Dorothy resolutely turns homeward…but the turbulent winds knock her unconscious, and she awakens in the Land of Oz.

Scenes from ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Photos by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Dorothy is welcomed to the Land of Oz by Glinda the Good Witch (Sheri Hayden) and the munchkins (all played by child actors) in the number “Munchkinland.” Hayden’s vocals are as bright and shimmery as her billowy gown — a testament to costumes by Erin Welsh, who does a fantastic job. The background characters (munchkins, jitterbugs, Oz citizens, etc.) are all dressed in a style that reminds me of characters from a Dr. Seuss book: colorful, quirky, and fun. Determined to return home to Kansas, Dorothy takes Glinda’s advice and decides to follow the “Yellow Brick Road” in search of the Wizard of Oz, who is the only person in the land with the power to help her. Adventures await. Dorothy makes several friends — and one frightening enemy bent on destroying her.

The main cast all do a fantastic job with their roles. Larry Toyter is lively and lovable as the Scarecrow, who joins Dorothy on her quest in the number “If I Only Had a Brain.” The Scarecrow, who is made of straw, wishes to have a brain of his very own and decides to ask the Wizard for one. His clumsy slapstick movements get a lot of laughs from the audience and add to his overall endearing quality. Not long after, the friends meet a rusted Tinman (Ariel Messeca), who wishes for a heart in the number “If I Only Had a Heart.” The trio then meet a neurotic Cowardly Lion (Jordan B. Stocksdale), who wishes for bravery in the number “If I Only Had the Nerve.” These unlikely friends help each other through challenging hardships as they voyage to the Land of Oz. My favorite theme of the story is the fact that these three characters’ strongest attributes are in fact the very virtues that they believe they lack; Tinman is an emotional soul who weeps for others, the Lion shows reluctant bravery in dangerous situations, and the Scarecrow outwits many other characters throughout their adventures. Kathy Halenda is very memorable as the Wicked Witch (truly, I can still hear her cackle in my head). Choreographer Stephanie Wood does a great job with the ensemble numbers, my favorites being “Land of Oz” and “Jitterbug.” Lots of great dance styles are featured, predominately tap, and in another notable scene, several snowflakes display graceful ballet moves in the musical number “Poppies.”

It’s amazing what a stellar cast, solid direction, and an efficient, imaginative technical crew can bring to life onstage together, and Riverside’s production of The Wizard of Oz is a shining example of exceptional theater. It was an absolute delight and a real achievement!

Time: Three hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Wizard of Oz plays through July 14, 2024, at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts, 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA. Tickets ($55–$82) are available online or through the box office 540-370-4300, open from 10 am to 6 pm, Mon.-Wed.; 10 am to 7:30 pm, Thu.-Fri; 12 pm to 7:30 pm, Sat.; 12 pm to 3 pm, Sun. Discounts are available for groups (for details click here).

Adult Dinner & Show – $82 (plus applicable taxes)
Seniors (65+) Dinner & Show – $77 (plus applicable taxes)
Children (3-17) Dinner & Show – $70 (plus applicable taxes)
Adult Show Only – $65
Seniors (65+) Show Only – $60
Children (3-17) Show Only – $55
There will be a $5.00 online processing fee added per ticket.

The playbill for The Wizard of Oz is online here.

COVID Safety: Patrons are not required to be masked in the facility; but if patrons want to wear a mask, they are welcome to.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
Background Music by Herbert Stothart
Dance and Vocal Arrangements by Peter Howard
Orchestration by Larry Wilcox
Adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company
Based upon the Classic Motion Picture owned by Turner Entertainment Co. and distributed in all media by Warner Bros.


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