‘The Wizard of Oz’ at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre: A girl and her dog

Once more over the rainbow

Seth Caikowski as the Cowardly Lion
Photo by Glenn Ross

Life is pain. It is also beautiful and awe-inspiring, to be sure, but it’s full of sharp corners and people who would just as soon spit on you as shake your hand. A random act of attempted kindness — say, overlooking someone’s glaring deficiencies rather than enumerating them in detail — is just as likely to be met with baseless rancor as smiling appreciation. But as Sinatra (or depending on your generation, David Lee Roth) sang, “That’s life,” and so far as I can tell it’s the best game going.

As terrible and weird as life can be, the more we focus on the good the less room there is for the bad. It seems that around every corner, there’s another chance to make a friend or smell a flower or find your way — actually or metaphorically — home. You may not be the smartest person in the room; you might lack the bravery to rush boldly into a fray, and you could easily be an emotional cripple, but if you keep an open heart and try every day to be a better person, you might just find what you’re looking for.

Often, the grandest of life’s adventures begin under the humblest circumstances. A little girl, threatened with the loss of her beloved pooch, runs away from home. She is magically transported to a mysterious land far away and set on a journey fraught with peril and full of excitement. As incredible as her adventure becomes, it remains firmly grounded in the simplest motivation. The girl will do anything to protect her little dog and to get both of them back to the family farm.

I am, of course, talking about The Wizard of Oz. This cultural powerhouse, this multi-generationally much-beloved masterpiece, has been touching hearts and opening minds since the turn of the 20th century. The L. Frank Baum novel upon which all of Oz is based was first published in 1900. It was followed a couple of years later by the lesser musical version, which was in turn followed in 1939 by the Judy Garland-starring motion picture. Though the original film is considered the apotheosis of Oz-dom by most fans, Oz has been revisited in cartoons, Broadway musicals, cereal commercials and just about every other medium, and it still captivates audiences regularly to this very day.

Boulder’s Dinner Theatre has brought The Wizard of Oz back to Boulder and, as usual, they’ve mounted a fabulous production. While at its most basic, The Wizard of Oz is the story of a girl and her dog, it is also a testament to the power of love, friendship and belief in oneself. It is full of wonders, both big and small, and it is a sincere, uplifting entertainment for audiences of all ages.

With so much of The Wizard of Oz dependent on the ageless tunes of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, the musicians playing those tunes better be on the money. Neal Dunfee and the BDT Orchestra (Nick Vocatura, Dean Vlachos, April Johannesen, Nick Gnojek, Roby Reynolds, Jon Stubbs, John King, Carlton Bacon, Michael Hilton and Sam Griffith) do what they always do and play the heck out of each and every song.

The casting by Director Alicia Dunfee is also by and large spot on. Making her BDT debut but having played Dorothy before, Sarah Grover fills the ruby slippers quite well. Her strong singing skills showcase her power and range, even on the notoriously difficult “Over the Rainbow,” and her acting is more than up to snuff. I definitely heard sniffles from the crowd when she begged her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry not to let Miss Gulch take Toto away.

Bob Hoppe plays the Tin Man with the requisite amounts of earnestness and tap dancing. Seth Caikowski’s Cowardly Lion was a fan favorite on the night I attended. He earns big laughs as he sends up Bert Lahr’s movie incarnation of the famous ’fraidy cat. Lately, BDT has been using longtime cast member Scott Beyette in more heel rather than hero roles, and though he’s good at playing the jerk, it’s nice to see him in the unequivocally good-guy role of the Scarecrow. He brings excellent physicality as well as emotional heft and easy humor to the part. Tracy Warren makes for a passable Glinda, but I would have loved to have seen what Joanie Brosseau or even Dunfee herself would have done as the Good Witch of the North.

BDT’s The Wizard of Oz gives audiences every reason to take another stroll down the yellow brick road.

The Wizard of Oz plays at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre through Aug. 31. Tickets are $35-$59. 5501 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 303-449-6000.

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