Monday, January 30, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW The Wonderful Wizard and Toto, Too By Beverly Creasey

The Wheelock Family Theatre has been producing exceptional work for thirty years. Where else can you see children and professional actors working together on the same stage, looking just like us: all sizes, all colors, all ages and all abilities…all enriching every production!

Producer Susan Kosoff and managing director Jane Staab (snarling as Wicked Witch in their current production of THE WIZARD OF OZ) have done the impossible. They’ve kept ticket prices low enough ($15 to some performances) so that the whole family can experience the wonder of live theater. And should your children itch to be on stage, they offer myriad classes and programs. Many of their charges have gone on to the professional stage – like their Dorothy in this production.

Katherine Leigh Doherty performed on Broadway with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. Now she’s back sharing the Wheelock stage with the most adorable Toto I’ve ever encountered and a Wizard who “if ever, oh ever, a wiz there was” he’s the genuine article. Sofia Pilar Villafane as Toto and John Davin as the title character spark the production to life.

Some sound glitches and a few distracted performances on opening weekend couldn’t keep the audience of mostly children from drinking in every moment. The kids I asked all knew the movie by heart so they were anticipating every scene, every line.

It’s not easy to outshine some of Boston’s finest actors, but put Sofia Villafane in a tiny dog costume (by Melissa Miller), watch her sniffle, whimper, waddle and sit – and you can’t take your eyes off her! (Frankly, she’s the one to watch in some of the overlong production numbers like the Jitterbug scene, wisely cut from the MGM movie.) When the Tin Man (Shelley Bolman) says goodbye to Toto and the Lion (Timothy John Smith) shakes her paw, that’s when the real sentiment kicks in.

You know what they say about children and dogs. (W.C. Fields hated appearing with either because he said no one would pay attention to him.) Well, put them together in one delightful package, in a little actress whose belief in magic transforms her from human to canine, and you have the best reason to see director James P. Byrne’s THE WIZARD OF OZ.