The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title The Emerald City of Oz
Organization FreeFall Stage
Date(s) of show January 14 - February 2, 2014
Reviewer Gerry Camp

Because her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, from L Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, are about to lose their Kansas farm, their niece Dorothy arranges with her friend Ozma, the Princess of Oz, for the three of them to move permanently to the fairyland. Dorothy is played with great charm in by FreeFall newcomer Elisabeth Corley. The beautiful Ozma is fourteen-year-old Tara Grubbs.

But all is not well in fairyland. In FreeFall Stage’s musical adaptation of Baum’s The Emerald City of Oz. the evil Roquat, queen of the Nomes, has hatched a plot to invade Oz. Played with delicious villainy by FreeFall founder Deedee Eldridge, she conspires with the disgruntled General Guph to displace Ozma and take over Oz for herself. Guph is played with a grubby, senile viciousness by Paul Greisen.

Guph sets out to recruit allies, enlisting first the Chief of the Whimsies (who wear boxes to disguise the smallness of their heads). Performed by Mark Fejta, the Chief sings with a strong, attractive voice, even with a box on his head. Guph then moves on to the Growleywogs, a vicious tribe headed by Laura Escobedo as the Grand Galipoot, who readily agrees to help in the plot, secretly planning to subdue the Nomes as well.

Guph’s final recruits are the mysterious Phanfasms, a race of creatures that take the shapes of wild animals. Their leader, The First and Foremost, appears as a large bear. Acted by Keith Johnson, who also appears as the Wizard, he has one of the most musical voices in the cast (and a great growl as well). Before agreeing to join the conspiracy, he requires Guph to sing his proposal, and with rhyming lines.

Ozma, meanwhile, has become aware of the plot against her.  A local ally, Bellina the Hen (Gabrielle Rocco), offers to supply eggs as weapons. Ozma enlists Dorothy’s aid to visit several potential allies, including Professor Wogglebug (the amusing Mallory Brodeur), who administers education through the use of various pills. Dorothy also visits Bunnybury, whose Queen, Taryn Colburn, appears to be unhappy as Queen Bunny. Mark Fejta again displays his great voice as Bunnybury’s Keeper of the Wicket

With such weak allies, Oz seems doomed. Dorothy, Ozma, and their team turn at last to two old friends, the Tin Woodman (Steve Watson) and the Scarecrow, performed with great style by Richard Sims. Of course the Scarecrow, he’s the one with the brains, comes up with the plan to defeat the invaders. If you want to know what Scarecrow’s plan is, you must see the show (or read the book).

One character I have failed to mention is Glinda the Good, who pops up from time to time during the story. Sung by Emma Eldridge, the best female singer in the cast, she sometimes overshadows Dorothy and Ozma, but she brightens up the show whenever she appears.

What most delighted me about The Emerald City of Oz is that it is totally the creation of local talent. FreeFall Stage Executive Director Deanne Eldridge adapted Baum’s book for the stage, and the score and the character-perfect songs were written by Davis native Laura Wardrip. A singer and actor as well, Laura is making her debut as composer, lyricist, and arranger. Eldridge and Wardrip have combined talents with an excellent cast to offer an entertainment for young and old alike.

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