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Play Review: ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Celebrates a Classic at Theatre Three

See Jeff Sanzel's faithful celebration of the 1939 musical film after 80 years.

“Follow the yellow brick road. Follow, follow, follow, follow. Follow the yellow brick road.”

Those of us who grew up watching the iconic 1939 film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz can’t help mouthing the familiar lyrics and dialogue.

In 1956, CBS broadcast the premiere of The Wizard of Oz on the small screen making it the most viewed film in movie history. Most of us were introduced through television.

The Wizard of Oz is likely as popular today as when the film opened in theaters on August 25, 1939. To mark this very special anniversary, Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events teamed up to bring the movie back to the big screen for a limited engagement, allowing new audiences to see the film as it premiered 80 years ago.

The cast of
Courtesy Theatre Three

Another option for seeing “Oz” in this landmark year is by watching the musical right here in Port Jefferson. The Wizard of Oz opened at Theatre Three on May 18 and is currently running through June 22.

Join Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto as they’re swept away by a tornado while seeking refuge inside Auntie Em and Uncle Henry’s farmhouse. Dropped in the technicolor Land of Oz, they are greeted by Glinda the Good Witch of the North and the Munchkins who proclaim Dorothy their savior since her house fell on the Wicked Witch of the East, striking her dead. But the celebration comes to a sudden halt when the Wicked Witch of the West appears in a flourish to claim her sister’s ruby slippers, which Glinda has already transferred onto Dorothy’s feet. The Wicked Witch vows retaliation before disappearing.

Glinda tells Dorothy the ruby slippers must have magical powers since the Wicked Witch covets them, so she instructs her to keep the slippers on and follow the “yellow brick road” toward Emerald City where the Wizard of Oz will know how to send her home.

Dorothy and Toto begin their journey and, along their way, meet the Scarecrow who wants a brain, the Tin Man in dire need of a heart, and the Cowardly Lion who longs for courage. Dorothy invites all to accompany her so they might ask the Wizard for help.

This enchanting tale is sheer perfection. Kudos to director Jeffrey Sanzel for not trying to reinvent the wheel, but instead staying on course allowing us to wax nostalgic for these beloved characters and their mission.

Dance number, Courtesy Theatre Three

Jean P. Sorbera’s choreography reinforces this directorial choice with dance moves reminiscent of what we would expect from the bungling scarecrow, rigid Tin Man and shivering Cowardly Lion. Sorbera also ignites the stage with energetic dance routines by an ensemble of children playing the Munchkins, often with the fluidity of adult dancers in numbers like “Jitterbug.”

Ashley Ferraro makes for a heartfelt Dorothy. This is a monster role since one cannot help but make comparisons to the charismatic Judy Garland, but Ferraro infuses the role with feeling. We root for her to make it through the dangerous events and plot twists because, after all, “There’s no place like home.”

Most of the actors in this versatile cast take on multiple roles.

Lindsay DeFranco shows her range as she goes from the matronly, caring farmwife Auntie Em in practical housedress and apron to the magical Glinda who dazzles in tall crown and pink tufted gown.

Jim Sluder as farm worker Huck segues wonderfully to the rubbery-legged Scarecrow who yearns to know what life would be like “If I only had a brain.” He is Dorothy’s sidekick right from the start and when their journey comes to an end, Dorothy confides, “I think I’ll miss you most of all.”

Eric J. Hughes’ turn as Hickory while on the farm becomes the wistful Tin Man who captures our sympathy when he reveals his literally heartbreaking story of lost love that left him without a heart.

Meeting the Wizard of Oz
Meeting the Wizard of Oz, Courtesy Theatre Three

Andrew Lenahan as Zeke on the farm imbues his Cowardly Lion role with a deep, resonant voice and tall yet cowering stature.

Linda May is riveting in the equally villainous roles of Almira Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the West. Her throaty cackles send chills down the spine.

Kyle Imperatore takes on Professor Marvel/Mayor/The Wizard with high energy, humor and a bit of wisdom.

Ashley Ferraro as Dorothy and Mia as Toto in
Ashley Ferraro and Mia, Courtesy Theatre Three

Special honorable mention must be given to an adorable Shih Tzu, Mia Donatuti, who as Toto has the audience in her paws from her entrance that inspired “Awws” until her curtain-call wave goodbye. Her scenes with Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch are edge-of-your-seat suspenseful thanks to Sanzel’s choice to cast an actual dog in this pivotal role.

Randall Parsons’ malleable sets slide in and out creating different scenes, while Robert W. Henderson, Jr.’s lighting enhances and complements them. A special touch, the bold neon columns that frame the stage create mood changes as they alternate in color from greens to golds to blues.

This is a big costume show and Chakira Doherty has recreated every character, making for a more than satisfying spectacle.

The orchestra, under the musical direction of Jeffrey Hoffman, adds full, vibrant and precise accompaniment.

This is a must see show for young and old alike. Follow the yellow brick road and venture into the magical Land of Oz at Theatre Three. You’ll be glad you did.

Barbara Anne Kirshner is the author of Madison Weatherbee-The Different Dachshund, a children’s book and musical. She is a regular contributor to DansPapers.com.

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