Alexandra Magnaud as Hagatha the wicked witch and Megan Bosarge as Dorothy Gale in “Surrender Dorothy” at the Footlights Theatre. Photo courtesy of Footlights Theatre

Playwright and local theater wizard Michael J. Tobin has enlisted songwriter and lyricist Carole Wise to take audiences on a journey to a demoralized but ultimately redeemable land in “Surrender Dorothy,” an imaginative and enjoyable sequel to the story made famous by the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz.”

As with many recent theater projects, the premiere of the show was delayed by the pandemic.  But the 100-minute production (with no intermission), appropriately labeled a “new folk musical,” is now up and running at the Footlights Theatre’s intimate performance space in Falmouth.

Tobin’s book for the show reintroduces the famous Dorothy Gale in 1969. She’s now a middle-aged widow of a Vietnam War casualty and mom to a troubled young son named Rebel who self-describes as “queer” and is deeply involved in the mind-expanding counterculture of the time.  She frets about his well-being and her own as she loses her job and has difficulty making the rent. There is no longer any Aunt Em to guide her.

In a moment of despair, Dorothy ingests a hallucinogenic substance from her son’s supply and awakes to find both she and her son in a somewhat decadent Oz where another, no less fraught, adventure awaits.

Megan Bosarge touchingly plays the lead role as a woman who is still essentially a sweetheart, but one who’s been worn down to a frazzle by too many adult problems. As reviewed on opening night, her nuanced singing fittingly gained strength as the story slowly progressed out of despair (“Goes Way Back”) into a redefined sense of strength (“Identify”). Her expressive eyes, as much as the lyrics by Wise, told her story to the audience seated only a few feet away.

Parker Eckert gave a credibly poignant pitch to Rebel’s vocals (“Give Me Some Rain”) and overall performance, which included references to the nascent gay liberation movement of the era.

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The memorable Scarecrow (Alan McLucas), Tinman (Mark Calkins) and Cowardly Lion (Sean Farrelly) are found to be back to their old dysfunctional ways. Each earned the vocal spotlight with their separate takes on the song “Awake,” with Calkins a particular standout.

The intimidations of the creepy witch Hagatha (Alexandra Magnaud) came to a head as she swept out of the wings to sing about the power of “Fear.” Koko Keller, as a friendly spirit, and Whitney Brown, as the president of Oz (the Wizard being long gone), took advantage of their opportunities to provide their eccentric characters with over-the-top comedic flourishes.

The music by Wise gave a sensitive, folky flavor to the proceedings, with lyrics ultimately suggesting uplift to be had through broadened identities and never giving in to adversity. Pre-recorded instrumental accompaniment by Wise and Jud Caswell gently lifted the singers.

In addition to writing the book and directing this fun and fantastic show, Tobin designed and executed the period and classic costumes, the peace and love messaging of the multi-level set, the occasional psychedelic lighting and the crystal-clear sound, thereby reconfirming his special place in the magical land of local theater.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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