And your little dog too!

The stage version of “The Wizard of Oz” succeeds in evoking movie memories.

Greg Corradini

The 1939 MGM film “The Wizard of Oz” had no trouble winning an audience. Angry apple trees, the Munchkins’ Lollipop Guild and flying monkeys were some Oz amenities that made it a hard movie to resist. And if those images didn’t grab your attention, then it was the songs that were super-glued to your thalamus.

Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s musical numbers, such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” are still popular today. So much so that “Somewhere” has been reworked as a jazz standard and can be heard as Muzak in elevators. “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead” and “We’re Off to See the Wizard” have tainted children’s brains with their infectious choruses while driving parents insane the world over for more than 60 years.

Rarely, however, have viewers taken the time to acknowledge the wizard behind Oz’s storied landscape, L. Frank Baum.

Baum spent most of his adult life trying to reclaim a lost family oil fortune. As his debt increased, so did the oddity of jobs he took on: chinaware salesman, chicken breeder, department store window dresser.

More interesting, though, is that his memory is preserved beneath the banner of a single work he wrote at the age of 43, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Baum followed this work with 13 other Oz books. None of them were as successful as the original and Baum died before seeing the Hollywood version of his amazing universe.

“The Wizard of Oz,” after its tremendous 2002 run, can now be seen again at The Children’s Theatre Company. Its stellar production of “A Year with Frog and Toad” was nominated for three Tony awards. And it won the 2003 Regional Theatre Tony award.

Director and Choreographer Matthew Howe sticks close to the motion picture screenplay adaptation by John Kane.

Dorothy (Laura Osnes) is a Kansas girl deprived of familial attention who is about to lose her dog to Miss Gulch (Dianne Hill). A tornado whisks her and her pooch Toto (Snickers) away to a fantasy world. To get home, she must follow the yellow brick road and meet the Wizard of Oz (Gerald Drake). Along the way she makes three frail friends: the Scarecrow who needs a brain, the Tin Man who needs a heart and the Cowardly Lion who seeks courage.

Viewers who have seen the 1939 MGM movie (and it’s hard to imagine anyone who has not) might wonder how a stage production would fare against the film experience.

Howe and scenic designer Scott Bradley handle this translation with ease.

Just like the movie, rural Kansas is depicted in dreary tones of gray. A large backdrop of a stormy sky and dilapidated farmhouse give viewers a sense of the desperation of Dorothy’s farm existence.

The twister scene, in which Dorothy is carried away, is recreated by means of a turntable in the middle of the stage. The stage becomes dark; the audience hears thunder and sees lightning. When a spotlight comes up, Dorothy holds Toto tight on a bed lurching to and fro, spinning in a circle in the void. Above Dorothy appear the wayward images of a tree limb, the nasty Miss Gulch and the comically implacable cow that, carried aloft by a tornado, chews its cud in the dimness.

When Dorothy does land in Munchkin territory, gloomy Kansas is pitted against Bradley’s bright mosaic of Oz. A large pastel mural of lilies and orchids adorns the backdrop. On either side, floral cutouts block the giggling Munchkins. Indeed, all of Bradley’s sets, from Emerald City to the Forbidden Forest, allow viewers easy access into the psychological realm of Oz.

The great set designs deserve convincing acting. Reed Sigmund’s interpretation of the Cowardly Lion resonates greatly with Bert Lahr’s portrayal in the MGM movie.

Sigmund’s nasally drawl of those famous words “Put ’em up, put ’em up” in his mock fight stance are a dead-on impersonation of the original actor’s. Lahr set a standard when he invented the Cowardly Lion’s cute antics and transparent machismo. There are some things that wouldn’t seem right to change and Sigmund rightly pays homage to Lahr.

Outside the Emerald City gates, the foursome waits to be granted their wishes. Here the Cowardly Lion gives his showcase performance of “If I was King of the Forest.” Sigmund somehow manages to get every word of this song across over the orchestra’s accompaniment while thrusting, growling, stomping his feet and biting his tail simultaneously.

Laura Osnes, a senior from Eagan High School, takes the role of our female hero, Dorothy. Still young enough to encompass Dorothy’s naivety and bright-eyed fascination, Osnes can also sing a mean tune. Her solo of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” leaves the occasionally wooden Judy Garland looking like a two-dimensional, sepia-colored cut out.