‘Wizard of Oz’ stage show captures magic of film

How do you capture the magic of one of the most popular movies of all time and put it on stage?

Networks Presentations pulls off that difficult feat with its glorious national touring production of “The Wizard of Oz,” now at the Gallo Center for the Arts.

Based on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production, the musical includes all the major features of the 1939 film starring Judy Garland, plus a few new elements added in.

The production includes marvelous special effects the boggle the mind. The tornado scene, which includes video imagery and dramatic lighting, is one of the most exciting scenes I’ve ever seen on stage. The audience at Friday night’s opening performance clapped after it was over.

There’s lots of fog, fire, smoke and explosions throughout the show and a couple of performers fly high above the stage.

Cassie Okenka, who was a top 10 finalist in MTV’s “Legally Blonde: the Search for Elle Woods,” is pleasing as young Dorothy and shows off a pure, sweet soprano in “Over the Rainbow.” She’s accompanied throughout much of the show by a real, adorable dog who plays Toto.

Adam Jepsen is an especially limber Scarecrow and performs back handsprings and other acrobatic tricks in his big number “If I Had a Brain.” In a departure from the film, he performs a funny number with three dancing crows.

Peter Gosik is loving as the Tinman and Jesse Coleman shows a gift for comic timing as the Cowardly Lion.

All four of the leads and several backup dancers perform the catchy song “Jitterbug,” which was written for the movie but cut from the final product.

Dancers in the chorus also play a big part in the poppies scene where the heros fall asleep as a result of a magic spell. Couples dressed in red perform a graceful ballroom dance, then switch into white costumes when the spell is broken with snow. It’s a transcendent scene.

Pat Sibley’s Wicked Witch of the West is more funny than scary and won’t overly frighten small children in the audience. Kristin Stewart is kindly as Glinda the Good Witch and descends from the sky in a huge bubble.

Melanee Wyatt, director of Modesto’s Youth Entertainment Stage Company, should be proud of how well 10 of her students blended with the professionals as guest performers. They played Munchkins and the Witch’s slaves, dancing and singing right alongside the regular cast members.

This is the final touring musical of the Gallo Center’s 2009-10 season and it’s definitely a spectacular one. For those who love Broadway shows, this is one not to be missed.

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