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The wonderful Wizard of Oz'

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Photo courtesy: Magnus Stark Photo courtesy: Magnus Stark

PTC holiday production filled with mirth and magic

BANGOR There's no place like the Bangor Opera House. There's no place like the Bangor Opera House. There's no place like the Bangor Opera House.

Penobscot Theatre Company is bringing Oz to downtown Bangor with their production of 'The Wizard of Oz.' The beloved classic will be running throughout the holiday season, with performances almost every day from now through Dec. 28. For tickets and/or more information, visit the PTC website at penobscottheatre.org or call the box office at 942-3333.

There are a handful classic tales that are almost universally beloved; 'The Wizard of Oz' likely resides near the very top of that list. The film version of the story is iconic and has become a holiday tradition for people of all ages. But not everyone has had a chance to experience that magic live and in person. This season, you can do just that, thanks to Penobscot Theatre Company.

The odds of someone who is actually unfamiliar with 'The Wizard of Oz' reading this review seem slim, but just in case, here's a quick breakdown:

Young Dorothy Gale lives in Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. She and her dog Toto run afoul of Miss Gultch, a local woman who is equal parts wealthy and awful. When Gultch threatens to take Toto, Dorothy runs away, only to quickly change her mind.

Alas, in the interim, a massive storm has blown in so massive that is whisks the entire house (with Dorothy in it) to the faraway Land of Oz, where it lands on a witch. Said witch's magic slippers become Dorothy's, thanks to the guidance of Glinda the Good Witch. But the Wicked Witch of the West wants the ruby slippers and will stop at nothing to get them.

To get back to Kansas, Dorothy must consult the fabled Wizard of Oz, who lives in the far-off Emerald City. On her journey to find him, she meets a brainless Scarecrow, a heart-seeking Tin Man and a cowardly Lion, each of whom joins her on her journey so that they might seek out that which might complete them. They must defeat the Witch to placate the Wizard, but unfortunately, it isn't that simple.

Even that is probably more synopsis than is necessary; after all, it isn't like you need me to tell you the story. That being said, if you're looking for a way to celebrate the season, you'd do well to let Penobscot Theatre tell it to you.

You might think that you've seen it all before, but rest assured you haven't seen an Oz like this. It's a vividly-rendered production, filled with interesting tweaks and alternate takes on the story that we all know and love. Tackling an iconic story that is held in such high regard can be daunting; you want to do justice to the source material while still putting a unique stamp on it. It's a fine line, but this production walks it with nary a stumble.

We'll start with the phenomenal ensemble. Molly Hagerty's Dorothy is brimming with sweet strength; it's not easy being the only child in a cast packed with grown-ups, but she holds her own(Note: the role of Dorothy is double-cast; Hagerty alternates performances with Bronwyn Beardsley). She's constantly at the center of the action, yet never shies away from the spotlight. Her trio of traveling companions bring their respective A-games as well. As the Scarecrow, Dominick Varney chooses to play simplicity rather than stupidity; there's an endearing curiosity there that contrasts with a fearlessly flaccid physicality. Ira Kramer's Tin Man manages to mine fluidity from stiffness. His lack of a heart never feels heartless quite the opposite, in fact. And Ben Layman's Lion is a wonderful blend of bluster and buffoonery; when combined with his underlying sweetness, the end result is lovely to watch.

The rest of the cast is just as excellent. Pamela Chabora plays the Wicked Witch with cackling glee and a frenetic over-the-top energy that results in just the sort of villain a story like this needs. Brianne Beck's Glinda is all smiles and tap-dancing charm her giggle alone is worth the price of admission. Arthur Morison goes big and broad; his outsized performance gives us a sense of the Wizard's bigger-than-life persona. Brad LaBree is good as Uncle Henry, but he's flat-out great as the goofy, grumbling Doorkeeper of the Emerald City. The rest of the ensemble performs admirably as well; they are too many to name, but they do remarkable work in bringing the population of Oz to vibrant life.

Oh, and for the record? Every single one of them can sing your slippers off. The foundation of the songs is laid by a first-rate set of pit musicians seven in all led by music director Phil Burns. These are tunes that many of us have known for our entire lives; Burns and company absolutely do them justice.

Director/choreographer Michele Colvin has managed to stay true to the story's roots while also making it into something new. There's a wonderfully kinetic dynamic that unfolds on the stage, with some aesthetic choices that give this 'Wizard of Oz' a style all its own. The production team has gone all out in bringing the vision to life Lex Liang's bright and bold set and costume designs; Shon Causer's evocative lighting design; Brandie Rita's sound design and Meredith Perry's props it all comes together in a unique and unified vision.

'The Wizard of Oz' is beloved for a reason it's a wonderful, magical story that has become part of our pop cultural framework. PTC's production offers an alternative telling, a telling that goes its own way while still staying true to the tale.

Do yourself a favor this holiday season - follow the yellow brick road to the Bangor Opera House.

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