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Theatre IV revives "The Wizard of Oz" in high style. 

On the Yellow Brick Road Again

"The Wizard of Oz"
Theatre IV
Through May 2
$16-$18
344-8040

If you want a sterling example of everything theater aspires to be, check out the revival of "The Wizard of Oz," currently playing on Theatre IV's Empire Theatre stage. Director Steve Perigard starts with the bulletproof appeal of the movie classic then adds several purely theatrical touches to come up with a razzle-dazzling production, full of charm and wit, and boasting boss performances by Dorothy and her crew. If Perigard's reach sometimes exceeds his grasp, he still deserves hearty praise for trying and succeeding more often than not.

First off, this production looks great. Scenic designer Brad Boynton has constructed handsomely detailed alternate realities, from the plain grandeur of the Kansas prairie to the multi-tiered whimsy of Munchkinland. No landscape along the yellow brick road gets short shrift; the road itself even lights up. And costumer Thomas Hammond has outfitted the large cast with fanciful get-ups, taking particular care to make each Munchkin a sparkling clash of primary colors.

But, as easy on the eyes as "Oz" is, it wouldn't pass muster without a capable cast of performers. Petrina Jones channels Judy Garland with her performance as Dorothy, a timorous quiver in her squeals of "Auntie Em." And she's no slouch of a singer, either, with her "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" hitting all the right notes. As the Scarecrow, Robert Throckmorton is an exceptional collection of loose joints. But the actor brings much more than fancy footwork to the role. His straw man projects a steady self-assurance that makes him the backbone of this crew.

Scott Wichmann plays the Cowardly Lion with nice comic timing and Cliff Todd infuses the Tinman with a glow of real warmth. As the Wicked Witch, Jan Guarino has a convincing cackle and gets as much mileage out of her character's one dimension as possible. Even Toto (played by Taco) delivers an admirable performance, handling a large amount of stage time with aplomb and nailing Dorothy with well-timed wet kisses throughout the show.

Providing a rich background is a splendid score orchestrated by two musical directors, Paul Deiss and Brian Lucas. As with everything in this production, the raw material is pure gold. Still, Deiss and Lucas add luster by bringing into the light lesser-known facets, like the haunting little melody for "Poppies" performed as the Emerald City comes into sight.

Where Perigard tries a bit too hard is in trying to replicate nearly everything that was in the cinematic version of the "Wizard." The tornado scene is imaginatively staged but doesn't quite work. When Dorothy is abducted, we get one flying monkey. Without the swarm that the movie offers, why even bother? A menacing horde of land-based simians would be more effective.

In the final analysis, though, the biggest endorsement of Theatre IV's "Wizard of Oz" is that, even after more than two hours, there was hardly a squirmy child in the joint. This enchanting production has the power to transport both the young and the young-at-heart over the rainbow. What a wonderful "Wiz" it
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