Lions and tigers and bears — again? Oh my!
Actors Cabaret is hosting Eugene’s second production of The Wizard of Oz in as many months. I thought I was going to have only one existential crisis this holiday season, but here we are again.
Luckily, it’s dinner theater this time, so at least you have the option to weather a twister with emerald green cocktails and carrot cake, which are just part of the charm that is ACE.
Truth be told, ACE is one of my favorite venues for theater. The people, the lighting, the green garlands draped around the walls — the ambience is reminiscent of a good dive bar, not the truly creepy ones but the gems that are tucked away on some busy city corner, where the people are somehow familiar and the mood is smoky and light.
The same could be said for ACE’s production of The Wizard of Oz, directed by the multi-talented Anthony Krall, which brings forth all the familiarity you’d want but a little less of the two-tone wholesomeness of the Kansas plains.
This production offers lovely singing voices, including Glinda (Emily Westlund), Scarecrow (Colin Gray), Tinman (Chad Lowe), The Lion (Cameron Graham) and, of course, Dorothy (Kate Fairbairn), who gives us a sweet and jazzy rendition of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” early in the first act.
Likewise, Fairbairn shows great poise and good humor, despite having a dog with a mind of its own and a rogue ruby slipper.
Several musical numbers feature the entire ensemble along with the main cast. This utterly defies space and time on ACE’s notoriously tiny stage. “The Merry Old Land of Oz” is especially lively and fun-loving, making it the unforeseen anthem of ACE’s production.
The most delightful pieces of Krall’s production are the comedic forces at play. I genuinely cracked up at the all-too-quotable lines I had thought were far beyond my ability to laugh at ever again. The timing was perfect between Fairbairn, Gray, Lowe and Graham, as well as Professor Marvel/The Great and Powerful Oz (Scott Machado), The Wicked Witch (Cyndy Duerfeldt) and the show-stealing Good Witch in flamingo pink (the hilarious Westlund).
That brings me to my favorite part of this production: the costumes.
Mary Jensen and Joe Zingo certainly had their fun with the visual elements of this show. Westlund looks more like Miss South Beach 1983 than the iconic bubble-floating Witch of the North, though my 8-year-old date suggested she looks more like Princess Peach.
The merry munchkins of Oz are something out of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, as if the Furthur bus unloaded them back stage. The Lullaby League (Story Frazier-Maskiell, Amelie Holden, Lilia Holden and Melia Machado) perfectly represents ’70s flower power, and I’m pretty sure I saw Elton John in the Lollipop Guild.
Moreover, Tinman’s suit is impressively put together, like a suit of armor found in a kitchen drawer, while the Lion is lovably mangy in his fiercely frizzy mane. Scarecrow even sports something like a wresting mask, and the flying monkeys are equal parts creepy and cute. It’s all a weirdly wonderful explosion of color and creativity.
ACE’s production of The Wizard of Oz is everything community theater should be. It immerses you into their world for a little while, reminding you to take a minute to enjoy this unpredictable yet vibrant funhouse we’re all in, and yet it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s authentically good for all the right reasons.
And while you may be like me, with eyes rolling at yet another trip down the Yellow Brick Road, ACE manages to melt away the cynicism in favor of the magic of Oz and the spirit of home.
The Wizard of Oz plays through Dec. 15 at Actors Cabaret of Eugene; tickets and info at 541-683-4368 or actorscabaret.org.