Sunday, December 4, 2022

Review: At Lamb’s Theatre This Fall, There’s No Place Like OZ

(L to R) Fernando Vega, Bryan Barbarin, Megan Carmitchel, and James Royce Edwards in "Oz." - Ken Jacques
(L to R) Fernando Vega, Bryan Barbarin, Megan Carmitchel, and James Royce Edwards in “Oz.” – Ken Jacques

A hush fell over the crowd as Lamb’s Players Artistic Director Robert Smyth took the stage on Saturday evening.

“It’s not often that you can attend a world premiere of a show,” he said, “and it’s even more rare that you can attend a world premiere of a musical. But that is what is happening here tonight.”

Lamb’s Players brand new show opened on October 16th, 2015, directed by Kerry Meads, and it is the work of Jon Lorenz, a performer and musical director at Lamb’s. Lorenz adapted the musical from L. Frank Baum’s famous American fairy tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900.

“There is no Over the Rainbow. Let’s get that straight right at the top. Oh, and no ‘ruby’ slippers,” Robert Smyth announced to a surprised audience. He explained instead that what we were seeing was the real Wizard of Oz, not the movie version, but the version that Baum originally intended.

Oz’s roots run deep in Coronado, as Baum wrote many of the 13 sequels to the original Oz book during winters in Coronado. Baum wrote these books in the Hotel Del Coronado and in an apartment just around the corner from the theater. It is no accident that Coronado’s nickname is “The Emerald City.”

After such an introduction, the audience waited — more curious that ever — for what this Oz: A Wondrous New Musical would look like.

The Munch Kin – Ken Jacques

Immediately, some things were familiar, like the plain browns and grays of Dorothy’s Kansas home, her overworked Auntie Em, and even the barking of “Toto” in the background. (Unfortunately but understandably, Toto was not a part of the musical beyond the recorded barks.)

Other things were new, though, like Dorothy’s twangy country accent, and the surprising and upbeat music, which pays tribute to iconic American styles like bluegrass, gospel, and ragtime. As promised, the Dorothy’s shoes were silver, but they had the same magical powers, and the Yellow Brick Road still wound through shifting woods and sleepy poppy fields.

Later, when the Scarecrow, Woodsman, and Lion appeared, many changes were surprising — and brilliant. The Scarecrow (played by James Royce Edwards, who just finished a successful run as Jake in Lamb’s Players Mixtape) is the same floppy, bouncy Scarecrow we remember. The Tin Man (known as “Woodsman” in this version) is played by Bryan Barbarin, whose deep voice and quiet manner fit the dignity and tenderness of the heart-hungry role perfectly.

Meanwhile, the talented Fernando Vega Latin-ized the Lion and drew roars of laughter from the crowd. His strutting dancing and cowardly tail-holding were reminiscent of the Lion we’ve all seen before, but even those characteristics were uniquely his own, spun in such a way (and accompanied by rips in enthusiastic Spanish) that had everyone in stitches.

Dorothy is confronted by a Winged Monkey – Ken Jacques

As all these changes hit the audience, there was a general sense that we loved it — but we were still getting used to the bluegrass music, Dorothy’s country accent, and the new lines and songs coming from the beloved Munch Kins. Then, unexpectedly, the Scarecrow’s scythe hit Dorothy on the eyebrow while he was chopping through trees in their path. Mercifully, the scene ended seconds later, and after a pause Robert Smyth took the stage again to explain that Dorothy (Megan Carmitchel) had been hurt and they would need a few moments to ensure she was ok.

During that pause, the audience had a chance to turn to each other and talk about what they were seeing and hearing, and all throughout the audience, people were ecstatic. This was new, surprising, and vibrant, and we felt like we were seeing the real story — the original novel — come to life on the stage. When Dorothy returned, a small bandage over her eye, and quipped to the Scarecrow that “it was lucky that I had that band-aid in my basket!” — and the audience erupted into long applause.

Dorothy herself was a star of the show, bringing the warmth of her Kansas roots as well as the strength of a character who is able to kill witches and free entire lands. Even more so than the movie, this Dorothy is a character to admire, a woman with values and determination, who stands up for her friends and faces evil because it is the right thing to do. Hats off to Megan Carmitchel, who captures so well the role of a young adventure-seeker and accidental witch-slayer. At Halloween, when witches and spells are on everyone’s minds, here is a refreshing and fun way to celebrate the season — and see good triumph over evil.

The Cast of OZ in the Emerald City – Ken Jacques

The Emerald City glows green with fabulous costumes from the Jeanne Reith of Costume Design — and audience members will enjoy the true-to-the-book inclusion of green glasses. The winged monkeys’ costumes were another favorite and drew chuckles of amazement from the crowd. As always with a Lamb’s Show, Mike Buckley’s set design is minimalist at first glance but holds more than the audience expects, including an eight-piece live orchestra and trap doors for melting witches.

Once again, Lamb’s Players has brought a piece of theater to the stage that tells a good story very well — but this time it is uniquely their own: a very old American classic told in a faithful but incredibly creative way. Appropriate even for elementary school audience members, this production is a gift to Coronado and the city of San Diego this fall, with great potential to travel well beyond this Emerald City.

Lamb’s Players Theatre Website

Becca Garber
Becca Garber
Becca is a Coronado local, military spouse, mother of three, and an ICU nurse on hiatus. In Coronado, you will find her at the playground with her kids, jogging to the beach, or searching the Coronado library for another good read.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]