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Dorothy, Toto and the Emerald City are holding court this holiday season at the Berkeley Playhouse Julia Morgan stage through Dec 23rd. The classic adventure with Dorothy, her dog, and the three hitchhikers she picks up along the way brings in the Holiday season in the East Bay. THE WIZARD OF OZ and that frisky dog Toto are barking up a storm, with a charming colorful cast that are true “Friends of Dorothy”.

Founding Artistic Director of BPH Elizabeth McKoy finds the family theme in Oz important “What I love about the WIZARD OF OZ is how it undashedly exclaims that family includes more than the household we’re born into; that family includes who we surround ourselves with through love.” Resident Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist at Berkeley Playhouse the clever Alexis Rogers (Lexie Lazear) moves in to a directors role and cast 30 Bay Area artists to play the loving characters of the Emerald City.

Director Rogers says “I set out to create a fresh Oz, one that felt inclusive, one that stripped some of the familiar away and left the essence of the story I loved so dearly. I wanted an Oz made of light and color, and every single human on this journey spent weeks and months saying: YES AND, and I will be forever grateful. They all brought their own cool thoughts and clever ideas to what a simpler Oz made of the rainbow itself could be, and together we made something I’m just so dang proud of. Theater is a team sport, and this team is freaking amazing!”

The familiar family we all know and love in the story of Dorothy, Kansas and Oz is part of everyone's childhood and as we become adults we pass the film and story to our kids. I won’t write much about the story of Oz. But I will tell you about this wonderful cast and the history of the LGBT connection to the “Ruby Red Slippers”, “The Rainbow”, the three friends she meets and the wonderful Wizard. Oh and I might mention a few extra "Ho Ho’s and a couple of Tra La La's that remind you are in the Merry O land of Oz".

What makes 'The Wizard of Oz" an allegory about growing up gay in America? When Dorothy wonders which way to go on the Yellow Brick Road, the Scarecrow says that some people go this way and some go the other way. Then he says, "Of course some people go both ways." The original MGM Dorothy was played by the 16 year old Judy Garland who was a super star in her musical career and gathered a huge following of LGBT community, to the extent that being "a friend of Dorothy" (FOD) meant being part of “the family’. The Cowardly Lion is described in a song during the movie and musical as a "dandy" lion. The city of Oz also has a "horse of a different color," another way of characterizing something that's not the norm.

The talented actors and craft team give this Oz that classic Kansas touch where there is “no place like home.” The musical’s primary charm, of course, is its timeless story that has come to be part of nearly every American’s childhood. The well-known earworn-packed score by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg's score contains such gems as "The Yellow Brick Road", “The Winkies March”, "We're Off To See the Wizard", "Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead", and of course, "Over The Rainbow". L. Frank Baum's story is endearing and is a rich mixture of fantasy and homespun values.

The two plus hour BPH production - featuring a talented double cast youth ensemble coordinated by Assistant Director Weston Scott. The two youth casts that play the munchkins then later flying monkeys. The adorable terrier, Toto is played by the skilled superb puppeteer Brianna Rodriguez and created by Kirsten Roysten and Kate Fitt. This production is a great example of theatrical wizardry with a creative important sound and lighting effects. Director Lazear guides the show with a winning sense of whimsy and a fun take on the Winkies' chase of the Lion, Tinman, and Scarecrow, making it look part farce, and part Scooby Doo.

Tanaka Dunbar Ngwara and Shayla Lawer are both cast as the icon runaway Dorothy; both their voices have the passion of the many Dorothys I have seen over the years. Ngwara’s singing voice is charming and has a nice quality. "Over The Rainbow" has a lot of subtext about the “dreams you dream” it’s the song that reflects the longing that many LGBT, especially older gay men, have felt for a place where they would be accepted. The real gold for this song -- in 1971 the Rainbow Flag was created for the June Pride parade based on Dorothy's quest to go over the Rainbow.

The set by Kirsten Royston opens with that monotone look highlighted by Branbi Pick’s lighting design that creates a cold tornado. The transition to Oz features dancers the accomplished Kat Bautista and Oscar Tsukayama who storm across the stage to toss and turn the farmhouse on its side as it hurls on the witch. Pick’s design includes some dynamic shadow puppets created by the props team Kate Fitt, and Royston. The Witches broom and all the Ozians canes and camp makeover tools are fun props. The props team is credited for Toto’s smooth touch, the mutt becomes an important part of the story. Being a puppet the dog was on stage more than a live dog would have been.

The good witch Glinda and Aunt Em are played by the charismatic actor/choreographer Megan McGrath. She arrives as the good witch in a puff of smoke, and after asking the Munchkins to “come out” McGrath is the first one to sing “Follow The Yellow Brick Road” with the kids in the cast. With Dorothy she sings the classic “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead” as the colorful youth cast shows her the way to the Wizard.

The highlight of the youth cast include Elijah Cooper and Elijah Jimenez as the swank Mayor and Josie Dooley and Lila Muise as the confused Coroner. “As coroner I must aver, I thoroughly examined her. And she's not only merely dead. She's really most sincerely dead!” These pre teen actors are well rehearsed, and perform with lots of standout energy. It is difficult to imagine the audience not smiling from ear to ear during the Munchkins’ short visit.

The first of Dorothy's three guy pals she meets is the terrific Matt Ono, as the Scarecrow. Ono steals the show with his show stopping performance and dancing in his solo “If I only Had a Brain”. His flips and flops and flying garland hay are grand. The comical Zaya Kolia, Bryan Munar and Alicia Piemme Nelson appear as the giddy crows and are a perfect match for Dorothy’s and ScareCrow’s memorable yellow brick road meetup.

The accomplished Nic Sommerfeld is the rusty Tin Man who brings the classic character to life and still manages to show off their keen clanky dance skills in full Tin gear as Tin Man sings “If I Only Had a Heart”. Accompanied by a forest of Apple Tree’s played by Gabrielle Boyd, Ava Maag, and the tall Samantha Rasler. It is great to see Sommerfeld in this musical, Nic shows off a flawless voice. All of Angela Lazear’s and Helen Frances’ costumes are marvelous from the awesome trees, the Kansas family, to the Winkie’s and the bow tied Ozians. The three lost boys - The Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man are eye candy in their colorful costumes and full size wigs tails and oil cans.

The humorous local favorite Scott Taylor-Cole is the Lion and displays strong vocals in "If I only Had The Nerve". All three actors prove their dancing skills and are perfect fits for their roles. The superb Briel Pomerantz is the Wicked Witch, who opens also as Miss Gulch on her flying bike. She is the perfectly evil villainess, especially later when Pomerantz commands her monkeys, “Fly my pretties, fly”.

Of course the Wizard is the highlight of the second act and is played by the marvelous Aubri No’Eau Kahalekulu, whose distinctive delivery and comic timing make her a crowd favorite. The Wizard is the main Ozian to “come out” as Toto pulls back the green curtain. She is effective and appropriate as the man behind the curtain and as the dapper Professor who helps instigate Dorothy’s launch “Over The Rainbow”.

In her choreographer hat McGrath adds a perfect physical complement to the “Yellow Brick Road” exits and crossovers but a dance highlight is Jitterbug that features the entire cast is a show stopping high step romp. A great number that was cut from the film version. McGrath and Lazear kept Dorothy's three boys moving well on their tap or tumbling toes.

Music director Cary Litchford and his seven person orchestra kept the pit “March of the Winkies” on cue and the cast was impressive during the classic “The Merry Old Land of Oz”. The Ozians company shine in Emerald City including the enthusiastic Bill Raphael as Uncle Henry, and the Door Guard at the Cities gate. The exceptional Joseph Alvarado is Niko the Witches main Flying Monkey, and Nathan Temby is the bossy General and more.

The craft team includes an impressive sound design by Lyle Barrere and his team Josh Price, Mimi Daniel and Desired Effect who added wind and rain for the storm with sparkle for the poppy seed drug reference. The stage management team includes Erin Sweeney and Cheryl Cary who keep the large 30 member cast on cue while Natalia Kazimi, and Jose Del Toro moved the Emerald city in place. Assistant scenic designer Miranda Waldron created the best Dorothy makeover chair as Lazear’s speciality of makeup and hair design are bravo with those Dot pig tales in classic form, and the Wicked witch in the fighting green smiles.

This WIZARD OF OZ has all the charm that you need for the dandy Cowardly Lion to whine “Put 'em up, Put 'em up!”. The “Oeo we Oeeoh’s” March of the Winkies and Dots iconic line to her dog “Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.” And as always, I want those ruby red shoes. This company has the finesse to take you "Over the Rainbow" to a place of innocence with a search for home and love. We can pretend for an evening - and the "Wizard" provides us all a lovely opportunity to do just that. Berkeley Playhouse continues their 11th season with WEST SIDE STORY that opens February 15th. The Norcal regional premiere of the musical BIG opens June 22nd. But in the meantime bring your whole family to the land of OZ and look for Pay What You Can performances Dec 6th and 13th in the “Merry O land of Oz”.

Berkeley Playhouse Presents:

The Wizard of OZ

Book by L. Frank Baum

Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen & E. Y. Harburg

Background Music by Herbert Stothart

Producer Kimberly Dooley

Director Alexis Rogers (Lexie Lazear)

Music Director Cary Litchford

Choreographer Megan McGrath

Resident Music Director Michael Patrick Wiles

Must Close Dec 23rd



Pay what you can Dec 6th and 13th

Rated G Runs Two hours 30 min with one intermission

Tickets at

Photos by Ben Krantz Studio





Somewhere over the rainbow way up high

There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby

Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue

And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true

Someday I'll wish upon a star

And wake up where the clouds are far

Behind me

Where troubles melt like lemon drops

Away above the chimney tops

That's where you'll find me

Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly

Birds fly over the rainbow.

Why then, oh, why can't I?

If happy little bluebirds fly

Beyond the rainbow.

Why, oh, why can't I?


So what gives The Wizard of Oz its LGBT sensibility. The following items listed are based on Wizard of Oz sensibilities, but they had no such resonance when the movie first appeared.

  • Dorothy's ruby slippers

  • Glinda the Good Witch's arrival to save Dorothy

  • The fashionable floorlength shearling coats worn by the storm troopers guarding the Wicked Witch's castle

  • The Enchanted Forest, which is what Fire Island's subtext along with the magic poppies is sometimes referred to drug reference

  • Dorothy's non-traditional family of the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion symbols of Gay Men searching for happiness

  • The Wizard comes out from behind the Emerald curtain.

  • Oz, a metaphor for San Francisco (the skyline suggests it)

  • Judy - the Month of June she passed away sparked the Gay Pride movement and that month in 1969 was the very first Pride Parade in NYC.

By 1971 June pride was in full swing in SF and the Pride Rainbow flag was created.

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