By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
When Dorothy Gale (Julianne Avolio) pines for a more colorful existence away from her drab Kansas farm life, a cyclone hits and the girl (and her little dog) are carried off to “The Wonderful World of Oz.”
But first, let’s pause for station identification…
Bricolage brings back “Midnight Radio,” a radio teleplay that is not on the radio (or at midnight). The actors perform as if they’re in an old-timey broadcast, standing at microphones, making all the sounds.
Side note: The actors do their own sound effects; a large tin sheet for making the sounds of thunder, shoes crunching in a sandbox to sound like footsteps…etc. In a radio play, every footfall is heard and every door creaks (there is no WD40 to be found).
Dorothy’s story might sound familiar. TCM writer Rick Polito once summarized the movie with an infamous TV Guide type description: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”
While true, there’s a gentler, kinder description here:
The cyclone transports Dorothy to Oz. The girl’s house lands in Munchkin territory smack dab on top of a notorious villain. The house crushes the Wicked Witch of the East instantly. The Munchkins cheer as their enemy has been defeated. Dorothy meets Glinda the Good Witch (Lisa Ann Goldsmith) who tells Dorothy she gets the magic shoes – the only remnant of the flattened witch. The spoils of war.
Since Dorothy just wants to go home, Glinda sets Dorothy down an amber-colored footpath that leads to Oz. Glinda, for some unknown reason, believes the Wizard can help Dorothy get home (when she secretly knows that the newly-acquired silver slippers can get her there). Dorothy meets Scarecrow (Nancy McNulty), the Tin Woodman (Jason McCune) and the Cowardly Lion (Sam Lothard) on her way to Oz. Dorothy convinces each of them that the Wizard can help them fix their problems. The Scarecrow wants a brain, the Tin Woodman wants a heart…yada yada yada.
Spoiler alert: Are you kidding me? It’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Yeah. You know how it goes…but the lesson of the show is that it’s all about the journey not the destination.
Avolio is a plucky Dorothy. She’s a bit wiser and funnier than the Judy Garland version.
McNulty’s Scarecrow is a joy. She plays him as the most likable member of Dorothy’s motley crew, giving him some homespun wisdom and oodles of charm.
McCune does a terrific job as the Tin Woodman (Woodsman with an S in the movie).
The southern accents in Oz are strong. Both McCune and McNulty play their characters with deep Southern drawls.
Goldsmith plays both good and wicked witches, a pack of crows and a mouse queen, all while doing her own sound effects. She’s marvelous.
Lothard does an outstanding job as the Lion and the Oz Gatekeeper. Each voice is distinct, and, at one point, they’re talking to each other! He really stretches his vocal muscles here and it’s made him a stronger character actor because of it.
Playwright Lissa Brennan goes back to the source material to tell the iconic children’s tale. There are some intriguing differences from the book and the movie. For instance, the slippers are silver and not ruby red. The most notable change is the gruesome origin of the Tin Woodman.
While Glinda is mostly a good witch under L. Frank Baum’s pen, Brennan sneaks in a little bit of Winnie Holzman’s “Wicked” version, creating a more three dimensional character – somewhere between Billie Burke and Kristin Chenoweth. There is no version of this story that doesn’t make Glinda a manipulative bitch when she says, “You had the power to go home all along!” Luckily, Dorothy calls her out here.
It’s all a bit of silly fun.
It’s important to note that sometimes fear often holds actors back, but director Jeffrey Carpenter has a fearless troupe of actors. None of them are afraid to be silly or sound ridiculous and that makes “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” something…well… wonderful.
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is lighter fare than the last couple Midnight Radio shows (now classic interpretations of “War of the Worlds, “1984,” and “Frankenstein,”), but it’s a rollicking good time with lots of laugh out loud moments.
Ease on down the road to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” It runs until April 14 at the Bricolage, 937 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.