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The Wizard of Oz -06/24/1999

Based on the book by L. Frank Baum. Music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Yarburg. Book adapted by John Kane. Cast includes: Abby Burgett, Debbie Rice, R. Frank Thomas, David Conour, David Munson, Tom Cravens, Diane Pritchard, John Tilford, Michelle LeLoup, Susan Lobdell, Lisa Verdick. Director: Pepper Grafe-Knepler. Musical Director: Robert L. Smith. Choreographer: Monica M. Samii. Sound Designer: Douglas Pugh. Lighting Designer: Brent O'Neill.

CUTC at the Virginia

Through June 27. The Virginia Theater, 203 W. Park, Champaign. Box Office: 355-3636.


The program tells us that "The Wizard of Oz" is the most expensive production ever mounted by the CUTC. As soon as the curtain rises, you can see where the budget went.

The sets, costumes and props -- most of which were apparently rented from the Music Theatre of Wichita -- are splashy and impressive, from Emerald City and the Wicked Witch's castle to a series of gorgeous backdrops painted to put us everywhere from Kansas to a field of poppies and a forest full of trees.

Then there are the apple tree oufits and the parade of Emerald fashions... Wow.

Fortunately, the rest of the show is strong enough to stand on these sterling production values rather than be upstaged by them.

Under the direction of Pepper Grafe-Knepler, the CUTC has found an excellent (and huge) cast, all the way from Dorothy down to Toto, to fill out this much-loved story of a girl from Kansas who gets caught up in a twister and carried off to a land far away from home.

The stage version follows the plot and uses the songs from the 1939 MGM musical, with such favorites as "Over the Rainbow" and "Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead," sung by generations of kids.

As Dorothy, Champaign Central student Abby Burgett sounds and looks great, and has a very strong stage presence. Her "Rainbow" is bright and spirited.
She's backed up beautifully by David Conour, David Munson and Tom Cravens as her three pals, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, all in fine voice and fine form.

And then there's Toto...

Yes, fans, the intrepid director and her cast have brought a real live dog on stage. I don't know if we were seeing Gabriel or Harry on opening night, but whoever he was, he was adorable. A major crowd-pleaser and scene-stealer, this little dog got "oohs" and "ahhs" all night.

The rest of the cast -- about a hundred men, women and children -- break into a variety of ensembles who also earn their moments in the spotlight.

Although the adults do their share, it's the chance to see so many youthful actors that makes community theater fun. Here, the Munchkins, the Lollypop Guild, the Lullabye League, the Snowflakes and the Flying Monkeys all make charming contributions.

In the end, excellent star performances, lovely sets and costumes, and all those terrific kids give this “Wizard” a touch of magic

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