North Carolina Theatre‘s New York connection, Broadway Series South, brings L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard Of Oz to the Raleigh stage this week in an adaptation by John Kane. Director Dean Sobon has brought eight featured players (nine if you count “Murphy” as Toto), an ensemble of fifteen, and several truckloads of special effects and intricate sets to give us a live production of the All-Powerful Wizard and his friends nightly through Sunday.

This rather begs the question: why The Wizard of Oz? Why try to put on a limited-set live adaptation of what has already been immortalized on the silver screen? It seems to me something akin to trying to bring Gone with the Wind to the stage: the sets would be overpowering to recreate, the characters would have to be stock, the effects necessary to burn Atlanta would be daunting, and whom among us mere mortals could be found to play Scarlett in any form even close to Vivian Leigh? All these questions apply to The Wizard of Oz, too, especially when one of your cast has four legs. Working with animals on stage is always fraught with danger: either they upstage you or they go rogue and destroy something during a live performance.

Well, let me put your fears to rest. This production of The Wizard of Oz is the real thing, from Kansas, over the rainbow, down the yellow brick road to Oz, and right back to Kansas again. In a mere 18 scenes, which still manage to run 2-1/2 hours, we get it all live on stage, with everything from characters that can warm your heart to cyclones and flying monkeys.

The special effects alone in this production are enough to satisfy any avid (or even jaded) theatregoer. A huge, movie-size screen provides a superior backdrop to the scenes in Kansas, which aids in setting the scene (including magical, animated trees) and depicting the approach of the twister that will transport Dorothy (played both properly and energetically here by Kalie Kaimann) and her house over the rainbow to Oz. To even try to explain the intricacies of how it’s done would be difficult, besides which, it would spoil the fun!

Once we reach Oz, each scene has been dealt with deftly and superbly, including some high-flying stunts involving good and bad witches, some very imaginative and often whimsical sets, and Baum’s iconic characters: the Scarecrow (Chris Duir), the Tinman (Christopher Russell), and the Cowardly Lion (Victor Legarreta). Given that these characters are already well known, to recreate these bastions requires the actors to both understand the known characteristics and add nuances of their own. These fellows did a masterful job.

The excellent ways the witches were represented was a treat to watch, too. Glinda (Ashleigh Thompson) never enters except by floating in her magic bubble, which wowed all the kids in the audience from start to finish. The Wicked Witch of the West (Emily Perzan) pops up in a puff of smoke and soars overhead on her broomstick – more magic! Some of these sets are downright phenomenal as well. My favorite was the Haunted Forest, which came with a galaxy-full of stars! Very much WOW-worthy! And the Wizard himself – whoowee! We were all a little awed by the Great and Powerful Oz! Kirk Lawrence gave just the right amount of fatherly kindness as the Peddler while giving an overpowering, Orson Welles-like aspect to his alter ego. And Micheal Weaver as the Guardian of the Gate gave us a delicate balance of flustered authority and deserved pride in his wonderful city of Oz.

The only thing amiss in this delightful recreation was the glaring lack of a Yellow Brick Road, or even anything closely resembling it – which, if I study on it, would have been downright impossible to recreate. So I am willing to give them this one small omission. It does, after all, give the kids a chance to create one in their own minds.

All the original music, by Harold Arlen, with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, is here, too; I’ve always loved “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead!” and this ensemble did a super job with it and all the rest of the music, as well. The orchestra is listed as a five-individual combo, but they managed to sound like a fully-staffed orchestra, with horns and oboes and… well, you get the idea

Broadway Series South has brought us this magical recreation of a great American standard, doing it with panache, some superb and imaginative costumes, and an ensemble that dances its heart out over and over.

The Wizard of Oz continues through Sunday, March 18. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.

* Bios of the creative team can be found at Bios of the cast are posted at