Wednesday, November 18, 2015

An Absolutely Magical Wizard of Oz

The best show of the year is on stage at the Children's Theatre now

Photo courtesy of the Children's Theatre.
How did I go so many years without attending the Children's Theatere? Seriously?

I've been hearing amazing things about their productions for a long time, but it wasn't until I was introduced to their spectacular production of Peter Pan last spring that I experienced it for myself. What. A. Shame. I have been missing out big time!

An even better production just opened and will run through the holidays: The Wizard of Oz.
Photo courtesy of the Children's Theatre.
It's always tricky pulling off a stage production of a popular film, particularly one with as many visual effects as Wizard. People get attached to things being and looking a certain way, and it can be tough to avoid disappointment.

Have no fear - this production is so close to the film that it's almost creepy. And not only is it faithful to the original, but it's also an absolute delight on its own.

Dorothy is played by an effervescent Traci Allen Shannon, who glides through her role as if she's in, well, ruby slippers. Her lovely rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" kicks off the show and man, does it set Wizard up for success. She also expertly interacts with Toto (a real, expertly trained dog that entranced everyone in the audience, adult and child alike). Shannon is proof that in our modern age, casting is about finding the right talent, not the right skin tone. She is a perfect Dorothy, and bravo to the Children's Theatre for casting the right person, not just the white person, for the part.
Photo courtesy of the Children's Theatre.
The rest of the cast is equally excellent. Bradley Greenwald is amazing as the Tin Man. He perfectly portrays the stiff movements but warm demeanor of our favorite rusty friend. Dean Holt makes for an expertly rubbery Scarecrow, with some mind boggling choreography. I have no idea how he moves the way he does, but it looks great. Perhaps my favorite of the traveling troupe is Reed Sigmund as the Cowardly Lion, who has clearly mastered the bluffing gruff of the cuddly fellow. Sigmund shows amazing emotional range and deftly anchors the friend group.
Photo courtesy of the Children's Theatre.
Sets are sparse but deceptively lush, with small but innovative touches whisking us to Oz. A particular favorite involved a stunning centerpiece of apples hanging from the ceiling (some of which were rigged to fall) and a simple stand of four "trees" (with people inside of them) in the middle. The trees were set on a turntable and between the forward motion and the moving trees, multiple scenes were set with the same pieces. It was simple but still gave a complex view of what was happening - brilliant staging.
Photo courtesy of the Children's Theatre.
Costuming and makeup is also especially great in this production. The incredibly fast and highly intricate makeup changes performed by the major cast members is impressive, the more so for the expressive abilities retained even with head to toe makeup and costumes covering potions of their faces. There are multiple assistant directors on this production and they participated in a master class of expert stage management, from lighting and sound design to quick turnovers and clean staging. It's worth mentioning because it's so rarely this flawless, and it makes the show whiz by with ease.
Photo courtesy of the Children's Theatre.
Special effects are equally worth a special mention, because they are all here. The only major effect, in fact, missing from the movie rendition is the horse of many colors. EVERYTHING else - the wizard, the castles, flying witches, flying monkeys, fiery broomsticks, crystal balls with people in them, snow and the infamous tornado - is here, and it is enormously entertaining. Keep a special eye out for the farm animals in the tornado; they were a hoot.
Photo courtesy of the Children's Theatre.
This is easily one of the best productions I have ever seen, and it was a wonderful way to spend quality time with family. I have many fond memories of the original Wizard of Oz, which I would have found any play hard to live up to - but this one blows them all out of the water. There is no better way to spend an evening over the holidays, and this is a show that will work for kids of any age - 9 to 90, they will love this Wizard. Run, don't walk, to get your tickets by clicking on this link.