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Harnett Regional Theatre Turns Out a Truly Wonderful “Wizard of Oz”

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Harnett Regional Theatre’s production of “The Wizard of Oz” stars Jenna Johnson as Dorothy, Wade Hodges as the Scarecrow, John O’Neil as the Tin Woodsman, and John Dupree as the Cowardly Lion

Most people have taken that fateful journey “over the rainbow” with Dorothy Gale a time or two, but whether you’ve seen the show one time or a hundred times, you’re sure to find something new to love in Harnett Regional Theatre’s production of “The Wizard of Oz,” onstage through Sunday, May 18th.

This charming production uses the 1942 script by Frank Gabrielson, a version of the story that is slowly being forgotten in favor of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s retooled 2011 version. However, the choice to stick with the older script, which is also the most closely related to L. Frank Baum’s original story, is a wise one. This older script doesn’t call on quite as many high tech special effects but focuses rather on characterization, story, and song, three things HRT has proven time and time again that it’s capable of handling and handling well. And that’s not to say that HRT doesn’t manage to pull out some show-stopping special effects. The talking Wizard head in the later scenes and the smoke and fire that accompany the Wicked Witch of the West’s entrances are impressive, but it’s really the acting that takes center stage.

The beginning of the show moves quickly, introducing viewers to each of the main characters in their “non-Oz” form. Director Ruth Mills chooses to keep the earlier scenes dark and somewhat foreboding, making for a nice contrast when Dorothy (Jenna Johnson) wakes up to find herself in the wonderful and wonderfully colorful World of Oz, brought to life by gorgeous, intricate set pieces by Rick Stephenson.

From the start, Johnson makes for a perfect Dorothy. With her angelic voice and an unmistakable innocent quality about her, she is every bit as believable as Dorothy as Judy Garland herself. She’s accompanied part-time by a “live action” Toto (Peyton Manning– the dog, not the quarterback) in the form of a little terrier. Manning, it must be said, does his fair share of tail wagging and impressive tricks, though Mills makes the smart decision to use a stuffed animal in Toto’s place when fancy footwork isn’t required. Switching between real and stuffed versions of the dog helps keep the audience focused on the story. Plus, the switches happen effortlessly thanks to intricately planned moves from the various characters.

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Perhaps the only thing cuter than little Toto in this production are the Munchkins. Clad in bright, colorful costumes, the large cast of munchkins dances and sings with surprising precision. Lily Kate Dupree, Frances Pope, Charlotte Pope, Campbell Phillips, and Molly Barefoot, the sweet little ballerinas who make up the “Lullaby League,” are arguably the cutest of the munchkin crew. They’re so cute, in fact, that the audience gets a real treat when they come back later as precious poppies. Other super-cute munchkins include Ella John Dupree as the so-serious coroner (and later a monkey) and Noah Massengill as the mayor, though all the little Munckins know how to charm an audience.

Though it’s hard to compete with that kind of skill, the adults in this production do a good job. Bonita Langston is frighteningly believable in her portrayal of Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West. She nails the trademark scary screech and hideous cackle, serving as the perfect foil to sweet Dorothy.

But, of course, important as she is, every Wizard of Oz fan knows that Dorothy can’t go it alone. Luckily for her, she’s accompanied by three hilarious male characters: Cowardly Lion (John Dupree), Scarecrow (Wade Hodges), and Tin Woodsman (John O’Neil). The fabulous foursome share great chemistry and prove adept at handling Patsy Castellano’s complex choreography. Furthermore, Mills is unafraid to let her actors get up close and personal with the audience, having them regularly using the aisles and the front of the stage to show movement. Her decision opens up the space and draws audience members even closer into this enchanting tale.
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As Dorothy and her newfound friends journey through Oz, rich characterization and strong acting bring each character to life. John Dupree is definitely the comedian of the bunch, playing up the Lion’s fear with trembling and wide-eyed terror. He also shows a considerable amount of panache during his musical numbers, delivering a particularly funny rendition of “King of the Forest.” His acting is very kid-friendly, so the Lion is sure to be a favorite with the little ones in the audience. Hodges lends a sweetness to the role of the Scarecrow and nails the physical comedy it demands, and O’Neil creates quite the intimidating tin woodsman.

Audience members will be stunned at the quality of the costumes and make-up for this production, which are Broadway-caliber. There are also some truly stunning set-pieces, including the backdrop for the Emerald City and the cornfield where Dorothy first meets the scarecrow. And, as if the visual appeal wasn’t enough, a real orchestra provides the music for this show, allowing audience members to drift away into the land of Oz, where they’re sure to want to stay for a long time.

The Wizard of Oz is a family-friendly hit you won’t want to miss! For tickets and show information, visit http://www.onlinehrt.org.

The Harnett Regional Theatre will present THE WIZARD OF OZ at 7:30 p.m. May 9, 10, and 15-17, and 2:30 p.m. May 18 in Stewart Theater, 114 N. Wilson Ave., Dunn, North Carolina 28334, in Historic Downtown Dunn.

TICKETS: $15 ($10 students and seniors).

BOX OFFICE: Tickets will be sold at the door.

SHOW/SEASON: href=”http://onlinehrt.org/season/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/278955215616673/.

PRESENTER: http://onlinehrt.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/onlinehrt.

VENUE: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stewart-Theater-Dunn-NC/208118619214050.

DIRECTIONS: https://www.bing.com/maps/.

NOTE: Join Dorothy, Lion, Scarecrow, Tinman, and more for a magical $20-per-person “Breakfast in Oz” on Saturday, May 17th, at the Simply Divine Bed & Breakfast, 309 W. Divine St., Dunn, NC 28334. If interested, e-mail Janet Doffermyre at triplejnc@yahoo.com by Saturday, May 10th.

OTHER LINKS:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900 novel): http://thewizardofoz.info/ (fan site by Eric P. Gjovaag) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz (Wikipedia).

Book: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=rbc3&fileName=rbc0001_2006gen32405page.db&recNum=0 (Library of Congress online facsimile edition).

L. Frank Baum (novelist, 1856-1919): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._Frank_Baum (Wikipedia).

The Wizard of Oz (1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical-fantasy film): http://thewizardofoz.warnerbros.com/ (official website), http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/852/The-Wizard-of-Oz/ (TCM Movie Database), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0032138/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wizard_of_Oz_%281939_film%29 (Wikipedia).

Harold Arlen (music, 1905-86): http://www.haroldarlen.com/home.html (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Arlen (Wikipedia).

E.Y. “Yip” Harburg (lyrics, 1896-1981): http://www.yipharburg.com/ (Yip Harburg Foundation) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yip_Harburg (Wikipedia).

Herbert Stothart (incidental music, 1885-1949): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Stothart (Wikipedia).

Noel Langley (screenwriter, 1911-80) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noel_Langley (Wikipedia).

Florence Ryerson (screenwriter, 1892-1965) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Ryerson (Wikipedia).

Edgar Allan Woolf (screenwriter, 1881-1943) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Woolf (Wikipedia).

The Wizard of Oz (1942 musical): http://www.tamswitmark.com/musicals/wizard.html (Tams-Witmark Music Library, Inc.)

Frank Gabrielson (adapter): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wizard_of_Oz_%281942_musical%29 (Wikipedia).

Ruth Mills (director): https://www.facebook.com/ruth.mills.549 (Facebook page)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.

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