Capital Rep’s Yellow Brick Road Has a Few Potholes

ALBANY – Capital Rep has chosen to usher in the holiday season with a 1987 rendition of The Wizard of Oz written for the Royal Shakespeare Company. This production packs a lot in its two and a half hours. Much good, some bad, and some ugly. To begin, the production is filled with more good than bad or ugly, making the latter two stand out even more. 

The good comes primarily from the cast itself. Kevin McGuire’s Professor Marvel in Kansas morphs into the Mayor of Munchkinland, and the ubiquitous charlatan Wizard is an absolute joy to watch. David Girard, who we watch transform into several roles – Uncle Henry in Kansas, Munchkinland official, the gatekeeper of Oz, and Nikko the head Flying Monkey, inhabits all of his roles with a glee and authenticity you can not help but be swept away by. His believability in whichever character he inhabits at any given moment is impressive.

(l-r) Barbara Howard, Adia Bell, David Girard (photo by Douglas Liebig)

Dorothy’s three sidekicks in Oz – Connor DeVoe (the Tinman), Tyler Hilt Mitchell (the Scarecrow), and Kyle Garvin (the Cowardly Lion) – all effortlessly sing, dance, and act their way down the yellow brick road to Oz with charm and endearing spirit. Garvin, who returns to theREP stage after a stint in Jersey Boys earlier this season, is the showstopping performance of the day. He perfectly inhabits the Lion and it is so exciting to see him back on the theREP stage. Katie Fay Francis makes a wonderful Rep debut as the obnoxious Almira Gultch / Wicked Witch. She scares, screams, and cackles with gusto. She fills the stage with terror whenever she is present. 

Adia Bell’s Dorothy is sweet, honest, and relatable. Her singing voice is pleasant enough and the audience truly empathizes with her plight to return home to Auntie Em and Uncle Henry.  Bell has the opportunity to sing the iconic Somewhere Over The Rainbow three different times. Sadly, she falls short with each rendition. Initially sung on the farm longing for something more, she is much too upbeat and happy about her plight. In her last reprise of the number, sung as a duet with Glenda towards the show’s conclusion, the number just doesn’t work. Their duet never feels like they are working together; rather, their voices sound at odds with one another.

In general, Barbara Howards’s Glenda and Aunt Em leave you feeling amiss… her performance is fairly one-note and not nearly as interesting and nuanced as these roles could have been. Frank J. Oliver’s set design is merely an empty stage with a few movable set pieces, leaving, in spite of all of Nathan W. Scheuer’s projections, a sense of vast emptiness. The projections, which worked beautifully in Fly Boys earlier in the year and several other productions here, just don’t work in Oz. We lose the warmth and excitement that Oz and Munckinland have, and the blandness that is the juxtaposition of Kansas. 

(l-r) Kyle Garvin, Halo the Dog, Taylor Hilt Mitchell and Conor DeVoe (photo by Douglas Liebig)

It appears the costume designer Howard Tsvi Kaplan couldn’t quite decide what way he wanted to travel down the yellow brick road. His costumes, with the exception of the Munchkins – which are bright, colorful, and completely captivating – are a compilation of the 1939 movie version, The Wiz and Wicked

Director Maggie Mancincelli-Cahill, theRep’s Producing Artistic Director, has given many of us a chance to remember our youth. For others, an introduction to one of the most iconic children’s works ever written for book, screen, or stage, and some of the most classic musical numbers to have ever been written for the silver screen. She treats the show with as much realism and honesty as you can possibly treat these fanciful characters. 

Adia Bell (photo by Douglas Liebig)

Freddy Ramirez returns to the stage once again with some innovative, delightful choreography for this company, and Music Director and keyboardist Eric Svejcar conducts his performers as well, as a six-piece orchestra located in a distant room a floor away from the theatre itself, with the well-honed deftness of the conductor’s baton. 

TheREP is offering up The Wizard of Oz as their holiday gift to the community. While the wrappings may not be pristine, the heart of the show is still a wonderful offering for young and old alike.  

The Wizard of Oz is on stage through December 24 at 251 North Pearl Street in Albany. For ticket information www.capitalrep.org or call the box office at 518-346-6204.

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