Arts & Entertainment

A Wiz of a Show at Yorktown Stage

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The Wizard of Oz (Douglas DeMarco, right) lifts the spirits of Dorothy (Jara Skagfjord), Lion (Joey Sanzaro), Scarecrow (David Cronin) and Tinman (Shawn W. Smith). Credits: Brown Paper Bag
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YORKTOWN, N.Y. - I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you missed “The Wizard of Oz” the last couple of weekends at Yorktown Stage, you missed one of the best shows I’ve seen in this area in the past 20 years.

At a time when other suburban theaters with live shows play recorded music, or use six-piece bands (without horns) that sound like transistor radios, local theatergoers owe a debt of gratitude to Yorktown Stage impresario Barry Liebman (Croton). He has made it a badge of honor to preserve the incomparable sound of a full pit orchestra filled with the best musicians available.

From the first thrilling notes of the Oz overture, under the baton of young and talented Ricky Romano (Nyack), to the crescendo of the sentimental finale, the 12 pieces we heard sounded more like 24. Welcome to Broadway North.

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The rest of the production more than lived up to that harbinger of happiness.

Let’s start with the cast, expertly directed by August Abatecola (Thornwood), the stage’s artistic director, whose sure hand with stagecraft continues to grow and prosper. Especially impressive was the uniform excellence exhibited by every actor on stage, regardless of experience, age or size of role. That speaks to a disciplined, professional preparation process; among actors, the axiom goes, “well-rehearsed is well-performed.” Check and check.

Working alongside Abatecola, as choreographer, Carrie Silvernail (Pleasantville) nimbly staged the dance numbers with precision and panache, managing to get the most out of everyone, who worked in tight unison to hit their marks. She also knows how to give great moves to sassy crows and apple-flinging trees.

It’s the rare reviewer who feels compelled to mention members of the ensemble as well as principal actors. But that’s how deeply engaging this cast proved to be. Not one actor on that stage gave less than their all, and we felt it.

I wasn’t the only one in the audience smitten when second-grader Addison Valentino (Buchanan), stepped out as the Munchkin Coroner to loudly proclaim the Wicked Witch “not only merely dead [but] really most sincerely dead!” Don’t get me wrong: Addison is not merely cute, but she really is most sincerely a star in the making, if she wants to be.

John Moore (Mount Kisco), a theater veteran behind the scenes in lighting and sound, added acting to his skill set as a strong and very credible Uncle Henry. Others in the ensemble also had performing chops to spare, such as Munchkin Mayor Sophia Marie Vessecchia (Yorktown), who sounded uncannily like her character in the Judy Garland movie classic, to our delight.

The same holds true for the always-excellent Douglas DeMarco (Putnam Valley), who wore several hats in the show as Professor Marvel, Guard and Wizard. He brought his own theatrical flair to all the roles, while selectively channeling the indelible characterizations of Oz movie actor Frank Morgan. (Another hat he dons, off-stage, is as a theatrical videographer and photographer, with his company Brown Paper Bag.)

One of the marvels of this production was how it smartly and proficiently reminded us of the brilliant set pieces that make the movie an enduring treasure, while also investing the stage version with a fresh wit and newfound sense of wonder. That’s no easy feat when you’re presenting what amounts to one of America’s cherished family heirlooms. Both technically and creatively, this Wizard of Oz did wonderful things.

Every one of the Broadway-worthy principal performers was right on the money in their comic delivery, musical turns and camaraderie. I’m not ashamed to say my eyes welled at the end, as they pulled effectively on the heartstrings when Dorothy (Jara Skagfjord, NYC) has to bid goodbye to her trio of friends: Scarecrow (David Cronin, NYC); Tinman (Shawn W. Smith, NYC), and Lion (Joey Sanzaro, Pleasantville).

Skagfjord was picture-perfect in every respect, and her traveling companions were furry, tinny and straw balls of energy throughout, their energy never flagging for one second.

Joey Sanzaro paid skillful homage to the ingenious comic invention of Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion, and the audience roared right along with him. His two pals were right there with him in their command of the stage.

Warring witches Ariana Morales, the Wicked Witch (Yorktown), and Stacy Basinger-Goodman, Glinda (Mahopac), each maintained just the right measures of sour and sweet, respectively. When performers look and sound as though they are having fun up there, the audience is in good hands, and is in for a grand old time.

It’s safe to say a Yorktown Stage cast never looked better than this, with stunning costumes designed by Jimm Halliday. Some of the wardrobe pieces were used by the Broadway production’s national touring company. DeMarco’s Wizard and Guard were dressed to the nines, and the many ensembles—dancing trees, crows, poppies, Munchkins and flying monkeys—were costumed so wonderfully, it helped transport us to a magical place for two hours of welcome fantasy.

The Kansas tornado and a host of other special effects were brought to vivid life with sophisticated lighting effects by Andrew Gmoser (Yorktown) and impactful sound design by Scott Tunkel (Millbrook).

Under the watchful supervision of production stage manager Casey Brehm (Croton), even the rapid-fire, smoothly executed scene changes deserve applause. They contributed to the show’s non-stop, quicksilver pace, which is much harder to sustain than it may appear to the audience and is the mark of a thoroughly professional cast and crew.

I’m still trying to figure out how Sanzaro, Shaw and Cronin were able at show’s end to run backstage, shed their makeup and lion, tinman and scarecrow outfits, and return as Dorothy’s Kansas farm friends, all in about two or three minutes. That’s show biz, folks!

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