‘Wizard of Oz’ a triumph of community talent

Heidi Wicks heidirwicks@gmail.com
Published on October 11, 2013
Amy Grainger plays Dorothy in the Peter MacDonald Productions’ presentation of “The Wizard of Oz,” playing at the Arts and Culture Centre Centre until Saturday. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

The familiar story of sweet little orphan Dorothy and her adventure to the Technicolour land of Oz is beloved by generations all over the world, thanks to the 1939 classic film starring Judy Garland.

The story has had numerous rebirths throughout the years — DVD releases of the movie in HD, Blu Ray, and now in 3-D, as well as a popular nationwide CBC television search last year for the girl who’d play Dorothy in the Toronto run of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical revamp.

Last spring, Peter MacDonald Productions (PMP), in partnership with NTV, replicated that search locally with, “The Oz-some Search for Dorothy.” The winner would play the iconic Judy Garland role in PMP’s local production of the show.

Amy Grainger is the lucky girl who won the role, and audiences are lucky to have her. Channeling Garland (she even kind of looks like her), she brings that pivotal combination of sweetness, naivete and that very important sassy undercurrent to the role.

Her voice is crystal clear and soaring, and everything you’d expect of a Dorothy.

Peter Andrew MacDonald delivers a faux-fisticuffs performance as Zeke and The Cowardly Lion, with a spot-on beer swiggin’, corn dog-munchin’, Rhode Island/New England accent. Fans of the TV show, “Family Guy,” If you close your eyes, you’ll think the part is being played by Peter Griffin.

MacDonald’s comic timing and body awareness is natural and unrestrained, and his improv skills came in very handy during a couple of minor set change delays in the second act.

The munchkins in Munchkinland are simply adorable in their little neon costumes. Their vocal direction (Ronalda Hutton MacDonald) brings us angelic-sounding children’s choral numbers, which combined with Ben Halfyard as the adorably authoritative Mayor of Munchkinland, results in a fast-moving, giggly, “awww”-inducing first act.

Leslie Stuckless as Miss Almira Gultch/the Wicked Witch of the West is clearly having a blast with the role. During a scene where she and her fellow witches are cackling around her cauldron, one remarks on the new ghoulish butler.

“Did you find him through an agency?” she asks. “Were they good?”

“They were medium!” the witch cackles to herself at her hilarious joke.

Earlier in the first act when Auntie Em (Kiersten Noel) offers the plump Miss Gultch a cookie after she has stolen Dorothy’s dog, Toto, and she refuses, Uncle Hank (Paul Fitzgerald) replies with his Kansas accent, “Whuuut? If ya don’t eat, you’ll waste away! And I’d hate ta see ya dwindle!”

The lively, quick-moving, witty script is full of corny but entertaining little jokes like that.

How much of it was adapted, I’m not sure. But the wit has become characteristic of Peter MacDonald Productions.

Yes, this is a community theatre production.

Some of the Kansas accents have a curious Newfoundland twinge.

The second act drags a little at the beginning, until a dance number at the witch’s castle gets things going.

Kudos to Mara Noftall (choreographer) on energetic, entertaining, and creative dance numbers — most notably the “Jitterbug” and aforementioned “Ghost Dance.”

But you know what? Who cares if it’s community theatre!

I love the Newfoundland twinged Kansas accents, they’re adorable!

The cast as a whole is obviously having so much fun, it leaps off the stage, and in turn, the audience smiles along with them.

This show is a marvellous example of how much joy a community theatre project can bring to both the cast and crew, and to the audience.

There is something to be said about that excitement in the air that’s felt when many of the people in the audience are there to support their loved ones who are performing. It just goes to show that there’s no need to bring in professional performers to stage a musical in St. John’s.

The plethora of talent, enthusiasm, and high spirits in this city is enough to make you leave the theatre smiling from ear to ear.

The Wizard of Oz total run time is approximately two hours and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission. The show runs until Saturday, Oct. 12. For ticket information, call the Arts and Culture Centre box office at 729-3900.