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Episcopal's 'Oz' Has a Brain and Plenty of Heart

Emily O'Connell, a student at Bishop Ireton High School, reviews Episcopal High School's "The Wizard of Oz."

A little girl from Kansas, some strange new friends and a yellow brick road that leads us straight into the thickets of imagination: We're off to see "The Wizard of Oz" at Episcopal High School!

The Land of Oz has fascinated since L. Frank Baum's novel, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," was published in 1900. There have since been countless adaptations, including the iconic 1939 film starring Judy Garland. Episcopal performed the script adapted for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987, which retains the famous film's dialogue and music. It tells the tale of Dorothy, who is transported by a tornado from dreary Kansas to the Land of Oz with her loyal dog Toto in tow. She embarks on an exciting adventure, battling witches and self-doubt on her way to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard and return home.

Lively supporting characters anchored the production, providing the animation and warmth of Oz. Strong individual characterizations combined a plethora of personalities into one solid performance.

Summer Thomas filled Dorothy's ruby red slippers with a sweetly mellow demeanor and a lovely voice. Flanking Dorothy down the yellow brick road were her wonderfully animated sidekicks: Charlie Haley as the ever-rusting Tin Man in search of a heart, George Thorne as the lovable Cowardly Lion and Eric Streed as the jelly-limbed Scarecrow seeking a brain. Using unique voices, physical humor and easy chemistry, the trio's innocence and enthusiasm captured the audience's hearts. Their lively songs, especially Streed's rendition of "If I Only Had a Brain," consistently entertained.

As the Wizard, Will Frazier employed charming battiness and comic timing as he creatively granted each character's request. Frazier's sincere, vulnerable performance easily endeared him to Ozians and audiences alike.

Sarah Soderburgh, gliding onstage via roller skates as Glinda, and Alex Covert, concocting devious plans as the Wicked Witch, balanced the show with clear personifications of good and evil. Memorable cameos from Robert Amico (as a Munchkin coroner) and Baobao Zhang (as boisterous flying monkey Nikko) delighted. Ensembles of Oz inhabitants, including step-dancing Winkies and irritable trees, were also enjoyable.
Don Tucker's sound work allowed actors to be heard consistently and transitioned subtly between songs and dialogue. Lighting by Jack Ballenger was appropriate and enhanced the action, brightening as Dorothy discovered Oz and dimming as her troubles multiplied.
Choreography by Tay Smith-Kiawu, Cary Hairfield and Audrey Humleker incorporated every dancer into cohesive, well-executed numbers. Energy began to lag in the second act after some lethargic scene changes, but the performers worked collectively to reestablish pace and present the heartwarming conclusion that has made the story a beloved classic.

The students at Episcopal High School continued the iconic journey "Over the Rainbow" with an irresistible foray into the simplicity of childhood, reminding us that there really is no place like home.

By Washington Post Editors  |  February 26, 2009; 12:01 PM ET
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