Toto is in so many crucial scenes in "The Wizard of Oz," I wondered if Loki, the canine performer playing the part at the Children's Theatre, might do something ill-timed to bounce us out of the dreamy world that Dorothy visits. It is an animal after all, no matter how well-trained.
Not that day. As Toto, Loki runs away from the Wicked Witch on cue and helps to reveal the Wizard as an old circus blusterer behind a curtain. The confident pooch plays the part of Dorothy's pet with cute predictability in this "Oz," complementing winning human co-stars such as Maeve Moynihan (Dorothy), Reed Sigmund (Cowardly Lion) and Dean Holt (Scarecrow).
Nearly everything works well together in director Peter Rothstein's magical revival of "Oz," which opened over the weekend in Minneapolis. His witty, energetic staging reverentially nods to the 1939 MGM film from which the script was adapted by John Kane. From Scott Bradley's bright scenic design to the lush score conducted by Victor Zupanc, from Sean Healey's thunder-punctuated sound design to Helen Huang's colorful costumes, the production floats on the film's aura.
Iconic images spill forth as is from a dream: a tornado sends a cow flying over the plains, Dorothy and her companions dance down the yellow brick road, and Glinda (Janet Hanson) and the Wicked Witch (Jennifer Blagen) arrive eye-poppingly.
But "Oz" is much more than a live version of the film. The cast transports us to a world of mystery and color. Moynihan shows that she fits Dorothy's ruby slippers, investing the Kansas girl caught up in a tornado with sweet innocence. When she sings the standard, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," she shows her dreamy heart.
The Tin Man's yearning also is beautifully conveyed by Max Wojtanowicz on "If I Only Had a Heart." A newcomer to "Oz," Wojtanowicz gives a touching performance, as does Dean Holt, who reprises a Scarecrow prone to falling into a gelatinous heap. Holt is one of the most gifted physical actors working in the Twin Cities and he shows it here again.
Sigmund's Cowardly Lion is a comic tour-de-force. His character is often like a balloon, puffed and easily deflated to a hissing heap.
Gerald Drake evinces his mastery in depictions of Professor Marvel and the Wizard, characters on a continuum of puffery. And Blagen is clearly having fun as the Wicked Witch, a character delivered with relish.
The cast includes John Paul Gamoke as goodhearted Uncle Henry and Hanson as beatific, floating Glinda.
"Oz" is about a group of characters who seek things outside of themselves, only to realize that they have what they were looking for all along. That is a timeless message that director Rothstein has vividly shown to be relevant today.