MONMOUTH — For Oz fans of all ages, the Monmouth Community Players’ presentation of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is pure delight. All the Munchkins, both on stage and in the theater seats next to their friends, siblings and grown-ups, had a fantastic time on opening night Friday, when the book version of L. Frank Baum’s 113-year-old children’s adventure story unfolded with exceptional charm and satisfying action.

With book in hand throughout the show, Ray Fletcher plays the author as narrator and he gives the multi-age audience an easy trip through the classic story. He portrays Baum as a family-friendly character, carefully keeping the scary scenes off-stage, and appearing in the key scenes near the end as the amazing wizard.

Fletcher is a veteran of MCP shows and he directed MCP’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” this past April. In “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy’s role is ably handled by Kimberlee Lewis, a junior at Monmouth Academy High School who has also appeared in “I Remember Mama” and “Alice, A Return to Wonderland.”

Dressed as Toto, Dorothy’s beloved dog, Sara St. Clair does a fine job protecting the four adventurers through their travels in Oz.

Four delightful Munchkins greet Dorothy when the cyclone drops her house on the wicked witch. They are third-grader Olivia Degan, 10-year-old Clarissa Estrada, first-grader Sam Schultz and first-grader Riley Fyfe. This pint-sized quartet of fine actors deliver excellent performances.

The appearance of Dorothy’s unusual traveling companions gets the show moving in high gear, David Handley’s portrayal of the Scarecrow is right on the mark. He moves with just the right amount of controlled awkwardness, together with a pleasing combination of common sense, though he claims to have no brains.

Chris Dumont skillfully shows the sensitive side of the Tin Woodman and Kathi Asquith roars her way through an excellent portrayal of the cowardly lion.

Emily Trefethen makes an appropriately menacing Wicked Witch of the West. She maintains just the right balance of fun so little ones in the audience will not be frightened.

The Winkies, citizens of the Winkie country in western Oz who have been enslaved by the wicked witch, are played by Katie Spadafora, Heather Pape, Aya Wilson, Ethan Handley, Alexa Gallant and Francis Jewell.

The parts of Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are played ably by Cindy Dunham and Andy Tolman, who double as The Lady in Green and the Guardian of the Gates.

Megan Record appears at the Good Witch of the North and Michelle Handley portrays the Good Witch of the South. Handley also was in charge of costuming this production, and her work is outstanding. Set design is minimal, allowing the costumes and  action to propel the story.

Director Christine Heckman retains just the right flavor of the familiar Judy Garland movie in this production, although it introduces a few features from the original book. For instance, Dorothy’s slippers are silver, not ruby. And there are references to the dreaded Kalidahs that figure in Baum’s book.


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