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THE RETURN OF TOTO

’Wizard of Oz’ sequel has heart, brains & courage

for The Brooklyn Paper
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After Dorothy gets back to Kansas and the Wizard leaves Oz in the hands of the Scarecrow, it is assumed that everyone lives happily ever after in L. Frank Baum’s famous story. But what really happened to those characters?

In "Christmas in the Land of Oz," now at the Harry Warren Theatre, playwright Ruth F. Perry speculates that all might not have been well in either Kansas or Oz. As the play opens, Aunt Em (Erin McIntyre) is distraught because the rains have not come, the crops are failing and the cows are dying.

Dorothy (Jessica Ripple) suggests going back to Oz to find help. Toto (Cindy Ball) finds the red shoes, and Dorothy and her dog are soon on their way.

But once the young lady and her pet land, they learn that, although it is Christmas, there is little cheer in the Emerald City.

King Scarecrow (Neil Garguilo) has discovered that what he now needs is not a brain but a heart, which will show him how the holiday should be celebrated. King Tin Woodsman (Chris Whyde), having been supplied with a heart, realizes that he needs something more in the brains department. King Cowardly Lion (Christopher Thomas Gilkey) has a heart and a brain and even courage, but both he and the animals over which he rules are being tormented by the insufferable monkeys.

Glinda the Good Witch (Amy Caitlin Carr) makes her splendiferous appearance and helps save the day. But the Wizard is never seen. He remains in Omaha, or perhaps in a traveling circus, or wherever Wizards go when they retire.

Ryan Repertory Company’s production of "Christmas in the Land of Oz," directed by Marie Ingrisano, is a delightful fantasy for the whole family. The acting is consistently excellent. Ripple, with her pigtails and blue-and-white gingham dress is sweet and spunky. Garguilo, Whyde and Gilkey give their characters a new stateliness while remaining faithful to the personalities we all love. And Ball (like all dogs or babies) steals the show with her likable and lively impersonation of man’s - now girl’s - best friend.

Rick Rivera, Sal Caravello, Barbara Parisi and James Martinelli have designed a set that makes good use of the dual-level stage - reserving the top level for Kansas and the bottom level for the Emerald City. And Parisi deserves kudos for whimsical costumes that are reminiscent of the film renditions but have a distinctively original touch.

Perry, with the help of Ingrisano, manages to stay true to L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel and the MGM film interpretation while extending the story with a new, seasonal twist. Children and adults will most certainly recognize and enjoy seeing their old friends once again.

And even those unfortunate souls who have somehow managed not to have ever seen the story in any of its permutations (in 1903, Baum adapted his novel, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" for Broadway, transforming Dorothy into a romantic ingenue who travels through Oz with her pet cow, Imogene; in 1939, MGM released the famous movie starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr; and in 1975, "The Wiz," featuring an all-black cast, jive talk, and rock, gospel and soul music, opened at Broadway’s Majestic Theatre) will love the lighthearted holiday spirit in "Christmas in the Land of Oz."

Of course, nothing could ever replace Garland singing "Over the Rainbow." But whether or not you catch "The Wizard of Oz" on television this Christmas, don’t miss "Christmas in the Land of Oz" live at the Harry Warren Theatre.

 

Ryan Repertory Company’s production of "Christmas in the Land of Oz" plays through Dec. 30 at the Harry Warren Theatre (2445 Bath Ave. at Bay 38th Street in Gravesend). Performances are Dec. 18 at 2 pm and 5 pm, Dec. 19 at 2 pm, Dec. 22-23 at 8 pm and Dec. 28-30 at 8 pm. Tickets are $12, $10 children under 8. For reservations, call (718) 996-4800.

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