It’s hard to imagine that a tiny burg like Brooks, Maine, could find enough young people to cast a musical production of “The Wizard of Oz.” No bios could be found in the scanty Marsh River Theater program, so theatergoers on Aug. 14 were left hanging as to the players’ origins. Wherever they’re from, whatever they’ve done before, whoever their parents, the Marsh River Teen Players under the direction of Sonja Richardson have brought to life a radiant Dorothy, a double-jointed scarecrow, a terrifying witch and an adorable acting dog.

Who doesn’t know the story of the strong minded Dorothy and her beloved dog, Toto? For my part, it is a joy to experience a local theater production where the lead character is a girl, where her true love is her dog and where there is no hint of a royal marriage pending. Power grabbing, insecurity, wisdom, terror, identity and death are a few of its many themes: this is a play perfect for today’s real life teenagers, and everyone else.

With few exceptions, the Marsh River production closely follows the 1939 film of “The Wizard of Oz.” Dorothy’s hairdo and outfit might have been worn way back then by movie star Judy Garland, right down to the gingham dress and braids. The actors’ gestures seem to be copied from the movie, too, including the characters’ voice inflection and posture. I guess everyone in the world has seen the movie, but I get the feeling that these young actors watched it prior to performing their onstage roles. This technique of copying other actors is akin to painting a picture from a photograph and it evinced a rather stiff caricature.

I would have liked to have seen a fresher performance, a more authentic depiction of a young woman whose routine rural world is snatched away in a moment by an act of nature and replaced by the magic world of Oz. Still, to gaze upon the beautiful, energetic Delainey Kein as Dorothy as she performs the jitterbug number is a moment worth the price of admission. Her eerie dance steps are compelling, matching the off-key song and threatened look on her worried face. Beautiful!

Cast members notable for their performances must be headed up by Caty Richardson, whose wicked witch scared the audience way worse than she did anybody in the cast. Mert Danna as the Scarecrow was sweet and watching him bounce around the stage made you question whether he was truly made of straw. Sydney Ellis as the Tinman had the best singing voice of anybody in the cast, and Colby Hinson as the Lion was always in character.

To their credit, the cast members remembered all their lines or, if a mistake was made, they covered it up so well you wouldn’t notice. From the front row where I was sitting, nobody couldn’t be heard; I wouldn’t vouch for those in the back rows or the balcony hearing everything. The singing was listless at times, as the supporting characters didn’t seem to be in the swing of things, gazing off into space and losing the reason for their presence on stage. Characters like the Mayor of the Munchkins, a young man with a deliciously robust voice, seemed rather lost when he wasn’t speaking. Casting the Wizard of Oz as a female was a neat idea, but Amanda Larrabee needs some coaching on finding her inner wizard. Her performance seemed less than powerful but her courage in taking on this difficult role is to be commended.

The use of technology in the production appeared to be mostly covering up a lack of staging resources. The electronic piano played directly in front of the stage sounded insipid. Scratchy taped music wafted out from somewhere backstage at various times, and a screen at the back of the stage was used to project images of trees, signifying the forest beyond. But the last few scenes where the Wizard was projected onto a screen as a young woman worked surprisingly well for the live young actors. In a kind of virtual conversation, Dorothy, the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man addressed a prerecorded version of the Wizard, who seemed to be reading her lines from a prompter. Why this device was used is a mystery when we could have had a live version of the Wizard, except to copy the movie version of the story.

In a major departure from the movie, the production’s castle soldiers wore trench coats and sunglasses, carried guns and passed out Oreos to the audience. (Get it? “Or-e-os” Well, you have to see the movie.) Especially enjoyable was Toto, who seemed to love riding around in the scarecrow’s arms wearing sunglasses of his own.

Overall, the four main characters of Dorothy, the lion, the tin man and the scarecrow seemed engaged in the story, lively and relating to one another. Perhaps with more rehearsal, the supporting characters also would have coalesced into the overall goal of ensemble acting — storytelling. As usual in a production using children, however, the musical brought fun and energy to the stage. Moments like when the scarecrow was cut in half, his lower half flying out mid-stage, a pair of jeans stuffed with straw, were hilarious, and the audience responded enthusiastically.

Theater lovers should make the trek out Route 7 to Brooks this weekend to enjoy this musical production. A rousing crowd of an audience will raise the bar and every performance will bring new confidence to these local players. I daresay I would write a completely different review after three more performances.

Local performance art is every bit as important as local food. Imbibe!

Final performances of “The Wizard of Oz” are Friday and Saturday, Aug. 20 and 32 at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Aug. 22 at 2:30 p.m. For more information and tickets, call 722-4110.

Jennifer Hill of Waldo’s Hungry Heron Farm studied and performed acting in New York City for seven years before coming to Maine.