How do you calculate the success of a family-oriented community theater production, a show that exists solely to entertain?
Is it fun? Does it create a world of its own, and hold you there once you buy into it? Is the audience distracted by the production values, the talent offered on display, or dated material?
The Tybee Arts Association's production of The Wizard of Oz is a rousing success on every front. For its goal is simply to take you someplace else for two hours, and keep you entertained.
And yes, it's loads of fun.
The play is an almost word-for-word adaptation of the script of the 1939 Wizard of Oz film, and that's not a bad thing, since it's witty, mysterious, fast-paced and weaves those famous songs into the dialogue as seamlessly as yellow bricks on a smoothly masoned road.
The other advantage, of course, is that everybody and his grandmother knows the movie backwards and forwards, so once we get started we pretty much know where we're headed.
They've set up an enormous stage in the Tybee Gym, and the play's action uses every little corner of it. And when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion link arms and venture "off to see the wizard," they do so down a yellow brick ramp and through the audience.
The leads are well-cast; all four can sing well (young Glory Padgett does a swell job with Dorothy's signature tune "Over the Rainbow") and they all seem as if they're genuinely having a good time up there. In community theater musicals, that counts for a lot.
The costumes and makeup are remarkable.
Adam Rich's Scarecrow is elastic and goofy, while Bob Fulton gives the Tin Man a stiff-legged walk and sentimental demeanor.
Renee DeRossett, who's the play's co-director, steals every scene as the Lion. I think she's channeled the ghost of Bert Lahr.
The two "crowd" scenes (Munchkinland and the Emerald City) include what looks like the entire population of Tybee Island onstage. They are delightful scenes, and it's enchanting to watch tiny little kids enthusiastically singing the songs alongside older residents, everyone sporting colorful costumes and looking like they're having the time of their lives.
That, in a nutshell, is community theater.
On the night I attended, the young children in the audience were enthralled by the entire show. Perhaps they'd seen the movie, perhaps not yet, but the story is timeless and spellbinding, and this production is nothing short of charming.
At Saturday night's show, co-director Kim Trammell's appearances as the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West drew gasps from the youngest members of the audience. Every time.
The video effects, provided by Tytan Studios, are remarkably well-integrated into the production, especially the first appearance of the Wizard himself. Although former Georgia congressman Burke Day appeared as the giant floating head of the big man, at Saturday's show his "live" character was played by Barry Finch, who looks nothing like Day. I have to admit, that was a tad confusing.
Of course, such a massive undertaking can't be one hundred percent perfect. The use of canned music tracks was off-putting at first (although one suspects the use of a live orchestra might have proved problematic). I got used to it.
The "added" dialogue from the angry apple trees didn't come off so well.
Some of the scene changes took a little longer than they probably should have, with costumed cast members still onstage, moving things around, when the lights came up.
Mere quibbles, however. This production of The Wizard of Oz casts its spell in the opening minutes, and when Dorothy finally arrives back home in Kansas, you'll feel as if you've gone on the journey with her.
There's something magical in the air on Tybee Island. Bring the kids.
The Wizard of Oz continues July 29-31.
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