THEY’RE OFF TO SEE THE COUNT

Joe Ronga, Dan Peterson, Madelyn Monaghan and Joseph York are off to see THE WIZARD OF OZ, in the stage adaptation of the ultimate “road picture” going up this weekend from Phoenix Productions.

It’s a winning strategy that’s served very well indeed: open in April with a family-friendly favorite; follow up in July with a dance-oriented show that draws on all the youthful energy available in the summer season. Return in September with a “golden age” classic for longtime audiences. Then, after you’ve made the nut for the year, close things out in November with something a little newer, edgier, more artistic.

When Red Bank’s own Phoenix Productions kicks off its milestone 25th season of lavish musical entertainments this weekend, they’ll be kicking it in style at the landmark venue that’s been their home stage for 23 of those 25 years — the Count Basie Theatre. And, they’ll be filling the seats of the Count’s castle with the friends and family members of a cast of some 40 players, as The Wizard of Oz becomes the latest upholder of the community theater company’s yellow-brick gold standard.

Madelyn Monaghan is NOT in Little Silver anymore, as she and Toto share the stage of the legendary Count Basie Theatre for six shows starting April 20.

Beginning on Friday night, April 20, and running 8 pm performances Fridays and Saturdays (with Sunday matinees on April 22 and 29), producer Lindsay Wood brings The Wizard of Oz to the Basie boards in a staging that was first done by London’s Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987 — and with a legendary local actor-director (Paul Chalakani, who’s probably played Ebenezer Scrooge more times than anyone else in New Jersey) wrangling those dozens of principal actors, Munchkins and Citizens of Oz.

L. Frank Baum’s circa-1900 flagship in the long-running series of novels for young readers has been adapted scores of times for the stage and screen— several of them the work of the author himself — and spawned its share of hit retellings (The Wiz) and riffs (Wicked) in between various versions which, well-meaning though they may have been, are probably best left out in the poppy field.

When modern audiences think about the Wizard, however, they think about the awesome and inspirational 1939 MGM movie musical — the only “road” picture you’ll ever need to bring with you to that desert island — a Technicolor dream infused with essential characters, indelible images and, best of all, that smart and savvy score by Tin Pan Alley cats Harold Arlen and E.Y. “Yip” Harburg. What distinguishes it above all pretenders to the throne is the fact that those instantly familiar songs — from “Over the Rainbow” and “If I Only Had a Brain” to “March of the Winkies” and “Optimistic Voices” — are present and accounted for under the music direction of Beth Moore and Andre Badassarini.

In the Phoenix take, Madelyn Monaghan of Little Silver stars as Dorothy, with Phoenix veterans Dan Peterson, Joseph York and Joe Ronga as, respectively, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion. Lauren J. Cooke costars as the Wicked Witch, with Bruce McKillip as the great and powerful Oz and Marybeth Jacobson portraying both Auntie Em and good witch Glinda (a full rundown of cast and crew can be found here).

Opening Friday at 8pm, The Wizard of Oz continues with five more performances at the Count Basie through April 29 — followed by an additional weekend of matinee performances (May 5 and 6) at The Strand in Lakewood. Tickets are priced between $22 – $29, and can be reserved right here. Phoenix Productions returns to the Basie stage later this year with Legally Blonde: The Musical (July 13-22), My Fair Lady (September 14-23), and Ragtime (November 9-18).