Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
August 2, 2013
Froth and familiarity make for summer fun. Well, more or less.
More, in the case of “The Wizard of Oz,” presented by Moonlight Stage Productions in Vista. The remarkable special effects and techno-wizardry are the superstars of this show – along with the fabulous costumes from the elaborate Madison Square Garden production.
The sets and projections are cool, too, not to mention the new surround-sound system that
places you in the center of the storm and the iconic No-Place-Like-Home journey. Witches fly, fire flares, the Wizard speaks, the Wicked One melts. It’s eye-popping entertainment.
Joining the 23-member adult ensemble are 21 talented kids, and they’re terrific as Munchkins and other fanciful creatures. Toto is played by an adorable rescue dog, a cairn terrier whose name, ironically, is Munchkin.
This stage version, created by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987, hews close to the beloved 1939 film, with a few additions, like the Jitterbug and Winkie numbers. But fear not, all your Harold Arlen/”Yip” Harburg favorites are there, from “Over the Rainbow” to “Yellow Brick Road.”
The singing is strong and the 20-piece orchestra, conducted by musical director Elan McMahon, is superb. Director/choreographer Roger Castellano keeps the pace lively, and the fearless foursome at the center of L. Frank Baum’s story is engaging and often amusing. But there’s insufficient variety and heart in Carlin Castellano’s Dorothy; though she moves and sings well, she should provide the emotional core of the piece. Still, you can’t beat the beautiful park setting or the knockout immersive experience.
Far from Oz and closer to home, “Suds” is bubbling up at New Village Arts Theatre. Created by San Diegans Melinda Gilb , Steve Gunderson and Bryan Scott, the show is a goofy Laundromat excuse for a very clever mashup of some great ‘60s songs. Javier Velasco, who choreographed the original New York and Toronto productions, is back at the helm, though there’s less dancing in this version than one might hope.
The three gals are capable singers, but the humor falls flat and there’s no palpable connection among them. As the lone guy playing multiple roles, Tyler Ruebensaal is a stunner, with great physical and comic chops. The singing is robust, but since these are all powerhouse belters, why do they need to be miked in such a small theater? At times, the sound is headache-inducing.
Like the vocal amplification, the taped music has a distancing effect. The story, with its hard-luck heroine and her trio of inept guardian angels, leaves a bit to be desired. This tuneful, upbeat musical was intended to be a melodic walk down memory lane.
Nostalgia runs deep in both these shows, but anyone can go over the rainbow.
“THE WIZARD OF OZ” runs on the Moonlight Stage in Vista, through August 10.
“SUDS” continues through September 1 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.
©2013 PAT LAUNER