The Wizard of Oz may be one of the few things Americans have in common. Much more than the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, or even “I cannot tell a lie.”
“Auntie Em!!! Auntie Em!”
“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
“Wanna play BALL, Scarecrow?”
Hear these words and you’re back in the 1939 movie — and back in your youth, when “I’m melting” evoked epiphanic glee. And evil Margaret Hamilton sizzled and shrunk to “where the goblins go.”
Jon Lorenz’s world premiere musical side steps the movie; he based it on L. Frank Baum’s original novel (1900). There are no ruby slippers. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion don’t have counterparts in Kansas. And Toto misses the unscheduled flight to Oz.
Dorothy, who longs for “a world beyond the gray,” comes down in West Munch, where the locals have Scottish accents. She and her companions Yellow Brick Road to Oz, where it’s so bright, people wear shades. Lorenz separates the locales musically. Munch is bluegrass country; the Emerald City’s ragtime syncopation (stylishly choreographed by Colleen Kollar Smith).
The talented Lorenz has written a versatile score with catchy tunes and the requisite anthem, called “Home.” But in the Lamb’s Players production, the songs and the story often lurch along, as if at odds. Right now the songs have top say. They need to defer more to the pace.
Some, like the Tin Man’s autobiographical “Hollow,” are too long (though Bryan Barbarin does a whale of a job). And “Home” has yet to find one in the first act. Its current position, at a point where the sprint should start to the first act curtain, feels thumb-tacked on.
Oz re-introduces us to familiar territory. Which presents a tricky challenge: how to keep ahead of the audience? Move fast — and with urgency. In the movie, the Wicked Witch of the West terrorizes from the start (is Dorothy — are we? — mere images in her crystal ball?). In Oz, she’s absent. The first act merely gathers the principals together. They sing backstory songs but without the overriding menace on her broom.
Someone said the three scariest words in the language are “world premiere musical.” This most collaborative of forms has duties within obligations amid necessities. And there’s no road map to consult.
Oz has a hit-and-miss quality, inventive parts but the structure needs a great deal of fine-tuning. The Lamb’s production, however, has an engaging, “pull it together” feel. To a person director Kerry Meads, the designers, and the cast are fully committed. Megan Carmitchel’s blue gingham’d Dorothy most of all. She has a nice combination of fragility and spunk, and the voice to express both.
John Rosen’s a sneaky Wizard, though his lengthy song “Humbug” lags behind the audience. When given the chance, Deborah Gilmour Smyth roars as the Witch of the West. James Royce Edwards gives the Scarecrow gymnastic riffs. And Fernando Vega’s Latino Cowardly Lion is a complete and total hoot.