Monday, July 21, 2003

Kim Anderson is Dorothy, Julia Ogilvie is the Scarecrow, Agaton Pasion Jr. is the Cowardly Lion and Jimi Wheeler is the Tin Man in Diamond Head Theatre's production of "The Wizard of Oz."

Piquant sidekicks
flank familiar

Jennifer Waldman is taking some calculated risks as director and choreographer of Diamond Head Theatre's production of "The Wizard of Oz." Make no mistake, the DHT show features the familiar melodies, lyrics and dialogue of the beloved 1939 movie, but some of the characters are a bit nontraditional.

The Wizard
of Oz

At Diamond Head Theatre, 520 Makapuu Avenue.

Runs 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 10, with additional 3 p.m. matinees Saturday, Aug. 2 and 9.

Tickets: $10 to $40. Call 733-0274.

The Wizard (Dion Donahue) is a hipster in a ponytail and trench coat rather than following the pattern of Frank Morgan's bumbling old man in late-Victorian garb; the Scarecrow is female (Julia Ogilvie); and the Wicked Witch of the West (Kathleen Sulieman) looks nothing like the snarling green-faced hag Margaret Hamilton portrayed opposite Judy Garland in 1939.

Dressed in a glamorous high-collared black gown, skirts slit to midthigh, Sulieman projects the sensuous aura of a classic Disney cartoon villainess updated for 2003, and makes her exits with a cackling laugh that evokes memories of Lisa Matsumoto's alter ego, Da Wicked Queen. The role marks an impressive return to the local stage for Sulieman.

Donahue is excellent in the small but important mirror-image roles of the Wizard and Professor Marvel. He is particularly good in eloquently voicing the satiric undercurrents than run through author L. Frank Baum's work, and tosses off his final line so perfectly that some audience members mistook it for an opening-night ad lib on Friday.

A glamorous witch and a trench coat-wearing wizard don't detract from the entertainment value of DHT's "Oz," but even so, it's probably for the best that no such experiments were made in the casting or costuming of Kim Anderson as Baum's plucky heroine, Dorothy Gale.

It's good to be the king: Agaton Pasion Jr. plays the Cowardly Lion, while Kim Anderson is Dorothy and Jimi Wheeler is the Tin Man in Diamond Head Theatre's Production of "The Wizard of Oz."

Anderson anchors "Oz" with a Po'okela Award-worthy portrayal of Dorothy that combines an excellent impression of Judy Garland with impressive song-and-dance performances. Anderson looks somewhat like Garland from a distance and established herself as the show's star Friday with her most important musical number, "Over the Rainbow." Anderson is a young woman to watch in local theater.

Jimi V. Wheeler (Tin Woodman) and Agaton S. Pasion Jr. (Cowardly Lion) add engaging performances as Dorothy's other two traveling companions. Ogilvie, Wheeler and Pasion each have a showcase "If I Only Had ..." song-and-dance number in Act 1, and Pasion also proves well worthy of the spotlight with his work as the centerpiece of a whimsical number "King of the Forest," in Act 2.

Cherish, the cute 3-year-old mixed breed that plays Toto, is inherently a scene stealer but behaved well on opening night, except for an early scene in which she decided she didn't want to stay in Miss Gultch's basket despite the doggie treats hidden there. Anderson kept Cherish well fed during most of their scenes together, and other characters also slipped her treats at key moments. Even when Cherish wasn't a central part of the action, it was hard not to watch her as she sniffed out doggie treats or looked for her offstage trainer's signals.

Several of the kids also have great moments. The festivities celebrating Dorothy's arrival in Munchkinland include a cute performance by Katherine Clifton as the Coroner and a show-stopping performance by the adorable Carly Kan, Kristen Masunaga and Kimi Lee K. Sanders as the three young ladies of the Lullaby League. (Their male counterparts -- Ka'iana Kau, T.J. Tario and TX "Tex" Tario -- were also audience favorites as the Lollipop Guild.)

F.L. Cabacungan brings a bright bit of comic bluster to his scenes as the Emerald City Gate Guard; Daren Kimura plays a darker style of comic character as the leader of the enslaved Winkies.

The stark hardscrabble milieu of a Kansas farm is depicted beautifully by a set defined in shades of brown and featuring a backdrop that appears to have the texture of a American quilt. The wicked witch's castle also has a solid and substantial look. Other sets and some of the costumes do not. Special effects can burn up production budgets fast, so it's understandable that the storm and the wicked witch's dramatic departures are represented primarily by noises offstage.

DHT didn't skimp on the orchestra, however, and there were no significant sound problems Friday night. Musical director Roslyn Catracchia's musicians give the cast consistent support, and Dawn Oshima (lighting design) plays a particularly important part in creating the ambience of Dorothy's experiences. It's Oshima's yellow lighting that creates the all-important "yellow brick road" on which Dorothy and her companions travel in their quest for a brain, a heart, courage and the way back to Kansas.

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