BAR HARBOR — Thank goodness that all forms of sweetness are not loaded with calories, because the 500 or 600 people who attended Acadia Community Theater’s “Christmas in the Land of Oz” last weekend received a heaping serving of adorableness.
The sweet binge begins with an opening act of Tom Lange reading “The Night Before Christmas” to a clutch of cute kids. Expressive ASL signing by Julie Creed, which eloquently demonstrates how this language of the hands has its own poetry, is a highlight.
Then the curtain opens on the familiar territory of “somewhere in Kansas,” with good ‘ol Auntie Em and Uncle Henry (a thoroughly credible Stephanie Clement and Lange) feeling too pressed by work and financial concerns to get into the Christmas spirit. Their niece, Dorothy (a darling Sophia Taylor), and her little dog Toto, too, (a delightfully doggy Cecilia Blackett) are similarly in the doldrums.
But Dorothy has the idea that what worked before may work again and, retrieving her ruby footwear, makes the magical and — spoiler alert — successful trip back to Oz to find the Christmas spirit.
As in the movie, but without the assistance of a whirlwind, we are transported from the bleak, weathered grays and browns of Kansas to a world of brilliant technicolor.
Ed Dillon’s excellent adaptable set and Sydney Roberts’ gorgeous giant paper flowers (crafted apparently from recycled bags) help make the magic. Costumes by Jaylene Roths and her crew are fabulous.
In a town where high school costumer Marilee Marchese has set a very high bar, Roths has measured up, dressing her cast in a thrilling, polychromatic festival of feathers and leaves and petals. This is a cast of 40-something, and yet each character and dancer is an individual presence — an iris, a rose, a lily, a songbird, a little wizard, a munchkin mayor in a top hat, a flying monkey with a jet pack — but also part of a wonderful cohesive whole. There also are the witches, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Lion, Dorothy and Toto, too! It is no surprise that the program lists more than 20 assistants who helped create this wondrous wardrobe. Bravo!
In this return to Oz, Director Angel Hochman has taken some fun liberties with Tamara Tudor’s script. Apparently Uncle Henry hauls lobsters on the side! But the beloved characters are all there — the Tin Man (an excellent Molly Dillon), forlorn again because he has now lost his sense of humor; a rapping Scarecrow, well played by Zoe Boland; the good witch Glinda, a delicious confection of pink chiffon played by Sarah Mislang and Samantha Park as a rather stylish witch played more as mean girl than a wicked one.
But the two character actors who steal the show are Hayden Braun, in real Bert Lahr tradition, as the Lion — now lonely rather than cowardly — and Lelania Avila as the wannabe country singer Wanda June. These two are so invested in their characters — Braun actually flips over it — you want to hug the lion and buy Wanda June’s album.
Also notable is the actor playing a gorilla who manages to convey exactly what he or she is thinking despite being fully costumed and masked! It turns out that this gorilla is Creed, the ASL signer. So, of course, that makes sense.
In fact, all the actors, large and small, do a fine job staying in character, a testament to Hochman’s direction.
Terrific lighting and tech were created by Matt Hochman and crew, especially the wicked witch’s Halloweeny lair. The makeup artists give Wanda June just the right amount of glam, make Glinda positively luminous, make those naughty monkeys somehow both cute and creepy and make a perfect puppy out of Toto.
It’s all enormously good fun and will be performed again at the Pemetic School on Friday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 9, at 2 p.m. as part of Southwest Harbor’s Christmas festivities.