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A lot of the songs are about how great life is at the castle, how much Hearst and Davies love each other, how much Flynn loves himself and how slighted Davis feels that Flynn’s omnivorous advances are pointed elsewhere. There’s even a strange little number about Martians invading Hollywood, inspired by Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast (an interesting connection because Welles would paint a notoriously unflattering portrait of Hearst a few years later with his 1941 movie “Citizen Kane”).
With stately piano accompaniment by Kim Rankin, the songs are curiously staid and convoluted, more operatic than anything resembling American musical theater, There’s certainly nothing hummable in the mix, and some of the numbers seemingly intended to be relatively sprightly, such as “It’s a Four-Step Plan” and “March red shoes ballet of the Martians,” feel forced and disposable, Still, Allee throws so much over-the-top dramatic zeal into Patricia’s deluded romantic numbers that it’s hard not to get caught up in them, Brady puts a lot of tender feeling into Stevens’ song about whether it’s better to be a mistress or a wife, despite an awkward setup for the song being there at all..
Debuting as part of the community theater’s summer “Alternative Altarena” pair of premieres by local playwrights, this is a pared-down version of “Castle Happy,” a black-box staging by recently resigned artistic director Clay David with no set but a rather elaborate introductory video. The musical’s Kickstarter page says the full version will have a full orchestra, elaborate dance numbers and more stars thrown into the mix, such as Charlie Chaplin and Clark Gable. It’s hard to imagine how more glitterati would fit into the story, because the existing characters have so little to do as is.
“The Wizard of Oz” is — or should be — a surefire crowd-pleaser, L, Frank Baum’s classic 1900 children’s novel has spawned countless stage and screen adaptations, but by far the best known of these is the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland as tornado-tossed heroine Dorothy Gale, The movie’s amazingly catchy songs by lyricist E.Y, Harburg and composer Harold Arlen have been etched red shoes ballet into memories for generations, including “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard” and “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead.”..
The stage musical “The Wizard of Oz” that Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre is producing at Livermore’s Bankhead Theater follows the movie very closely, from the script (slightly expanded) to the song list. Mercifully enough, this is not the 2011 musical that supplements the classic number with new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, but rather the extremely faithful 1987 Royal Shakespeare Company stage adaptation of the movie. The only song that might be unfamiliar, the bouncy dance number “The Jitterbug,” was originally written for the film but cut.
Played by the red shoes ballet orchestra led by musical directors Sierra Dee and Cary Litchford, Arlen and Harburg’s catchy songs are certainly the highlights of the Tri-Valley Rep production, in an otherwise lackluster and slackly paced staging by director Brian Olkowski, The sets and visual effects are by and large underwhelming, The humble set pieces in Larry Knigge and Vance Entertainment’s scenery seem dwarfed on the large Bankhead stage, though its size comes in handy in the few production numbers for which the large ensemble is deployed..
Ally Murphy is a bright and charming Dorothy with a strong voice, and her traveling companions in Oz are an appealing bunch. Playing Dorothy’s pet Toto is a cute little dog, Nessarose, that’s remarkably relaxed and doesn’t show up very often, usually represented by a closed basket instead. Rune Lauridsen is an amiable, animated Scarecrow and Max DeSantis a sweetly lachrymose Tin Man. Robert Sholty gives the standout performance of the show as the comically blustery Cowardly Lion. As in the film, all the magical denizens of Oz mirror people Dorothy knows back home in Kansas, so the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow also show up as farmhands. Sarah Sloan is a stern, low-key Auntie Em in a metallically glinting silver wig, but she’s also the beatific Glinda the Good Witch, always gliding in slowly on a flying swing. Jim Rupp is a folksy Uncle Henry and the elaborately mustachioed gatekeeper to the Emerald City, and Bruce Kaplan is an endearingly bumbling huckster both as the Wizard of Oz and the traveling fortune teller Professor Marvel. Sheila Viramontes is a sour Miss Gulch and a villainously cackling Wicked Witch of the West.
The show’s at its best when there’s a lot going on at once, which is to say mostly in the one scene when Dorothy initially arrives in the land of Oz, when she’s greeted by a large horde of adorable Munchkins played by red shoes ballet cheery kids in colorful costumes, The “Jitterbug” dance number choreographed by Marissa Joy Ganz is also pleasingly lively, By and large, though, it’s a mighty slow journey down that Yellow Brick Road, Contact Sam Hurwitt at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him at Twitter.com/shurwitt..