The Wizard of Oz finds bright lights

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      Book by John Kane. Music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Directed by Barbara Tomasic. A Gateway Theatre production. At the Gateway Theatre on Friday, December 11. Continues until January 3

      If you can’t fly Glinda, why bother? Okay, that question is a bit reductive.

      The Wizard of Oz tells the story of Dorothy Gale, a girl from Kansas who finds herself transported to a magical kingdom and must find her way home. Magical is the key word here. You can create that magic with special effects—like flying—or you can create it with simple props and a lot of imagination. But this Gateway Theatre production gets stuck in the middle: it looks like a low-rent attempt at a big-budget vision.

      When Glinda, aka the Good Witch of the North, arrives, a white light travels across Sean Nieuwenhuis’s video design. There’s a lot of sparkly music. Then the Good Witch saunters on from the wings. And when the Wicked Witch of the West supposedly flies off, the puff of smoke doesn’t begin to conceal the actor clunking down a set of stairs.

      Designer Lauchlin Johnston’s set fails. The scene in which Dorothy and her friends, the Scarecrow, the Tinman, and the Cowardly Lion, request an audience with the Wizard is all about their getting in the door. But on Johnston’s set, there is no door. And the aforementioned stairs, which get moved into different configurations, are huge, green, and clumsy.

      Fortunately, there are a number of bright lights in the acting company. Bridget Esler (Dorothy) has a lovely, throaty voice that’s perfect for this sentimental material, and she is buoyantly charming as an actor. Victor Hunter makes a sweetly goofy and rich-voiced Scarecrow. And, to hilarious effect, Tom Pickett plays the Cowardly Lion as an overgrown toddler, who also happens to be a consummate showman.

      Oddly, director Barbara Tomasic has cast a woman, Lindsay Warnock, as the Tinman and the Tinman’s Kansas counterpart, a male farm hand named Hickory. Doing so without changing the sex of the characters feels arbitrary and is distracting.

      Costumer Carmen Alatorre decks out the Good Witch in an outrageous ensemble that includes layers of grey netting and sparkly stiletto boots, but Jill Raymond plays the character with pavement-flat diffidence.

      As the Wicked Witch, Tara Travis occupies the opposite end of the spectrum: she throws herself into her role. Whether she’s acting or just mugging is debatable, however. Travis cackles and crosses her eyes, but it’s all superficial; her Witch never feels genuinely motivated, real—or scary.

      The huge company, which includes a lot of kids, is uneven. Under Christopher King’s direction, the band sounds great.