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The Wizard of OZ

a Children's Theater
CATEGORY : CHILDREN MUSICAL
by John Kane

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 4242

SHOWING : February 25, 2012 - March 11, 2012

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Introduce your children to the kind of magic only found in the Land of Oz. This 70-minute production features iconic songs like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Follow the Yellow Brick Road” from the movie score and is filled with characters who are like childhood friends one never tires of visiting. The Wizard of Oz reminds us that no matter what you’re searching for, you don’t have to look further than your own backyard.

Plus, after each show, stick around for a discussion with cast members!


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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Cultural Paradigms
by Dedalus
Monday, March 19, 2012
3.5
It’s always a risk “messing with” an iconic story. The 1939 film of “The Wizard of Oz” is so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that any variation from it seems almost sacrilegious. Author Gregory Maguire has made a mark telling “grown-up” variations on the tale (“Wicked” and its three sequels(*)), but he is the exception – his plots are so far removed from the classic film that they seem another story altogether.

Then there are the various stage adaptations that use the Harold Arlen / Yip Harburg songs from the movie. Make it too similar, and you get a “copycat” production. Make it too different and you get a “what were they thinking?” reaction.

Which brings me to the Alliance Family Series production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Heavily edited to a brisk 75 minutes, this adaptation drops a lot of what are sure to be SOMEONE’s favorite lines or songs or moments. On top of that, director Rosemary Newcott and her design team have dressed the production in the trappings of “folk art,” using puppetry, no extras, and “found objects” to create a totally new Oz experience.

It will not appeal to everyone. My daughter, in fact, found it “cheesy” and wondered why Dorothy “did not wear a blue dress.” So, you see what the production is up against!

On the other hand, I liked it (a few quibbles aside) and thought it was a lot more fun than last year’s full-length production that toured through the Cobb Energy Center.

I thought the “folk art” concept was a decent idea, and liked some of its manifestations. Where it “dropped the ball” (so to speak) was on inattention to scale and unintended effects. As one example, the Tin Man’s torso was an Altoid’s tin – clever in and of itself, with a nice bit where he “opens up” to reveal no heart. But, Altoid tins are not that large, they’re tiny! And seeing it through the entire length of the play came across less like “folk art” and more like “product placement.”

I also liked the small replica of Dorothy’s house that eventually flew to the raters during the “twister.” But, I had to stop and note, what was it doing there? It was placed “outside” and was ignored by the cast, so it came across as less a dollhouse and more a clumsy “you-know-what’s-going-to-happen-with-this” device.

On the other hand, I really liked the puppetry, the replacement of all the Munchkin Extras with a number of very cleverly constructed marionettes and puppets. I liked the Toto hand puppet, and how it kept jumping from character to character. And I REALLY liked the “twister,” a thing-of-beauty-and-joy-to-behold that combined old-fashioned stagecraft and shadow-puppetry with a few modern whiz-bang effects.

What also really sells this production is the marvelous and sparkling cast. Led by Sharisa Whatley’s plucky and resourceful Dorothy, it’s really a nine-member ensemble, all of whom play multiple roles (and puppets) and “knock them out of the ball park.” Lowrey Brown is a rubber-limbed Scarecrow who spends more time on the ground than on his feet, Jordan Craig is the sensitive (if heartless) Tin Man, and Brad Raymond is a nicely fearful Lion, whose real bravery sneaks up on us as much as it does on him. Also on hand are Je Nie Fleming (the Wicked Witch), Patrick McColery (Uncle Henry), Erin Meadows (Glinda), Brandon O’Dell (the Wizard) and Reay Kaplan (as a bajillion supporting characters).

As expected, Kat Conley has put together a nicely “raw” “folk art” set that pays homage to the concept without losing sight of the story. Musical Director Christopher Cannon has led the cast in their recreations of all the familiar songs, and Henry Scott has contributed some clever choreography that made the stage look a lot more crowded than it really was.

So, will your own munchkin like this show? A lot depends on how “indoctrinated” they are with the classic film. I suspect it will appeal more to the under-ten ages (and opening night’s full house was awash with smiling and attentive small faces). Older kids may react much like my daughter and shrug it off with a “Meh.” As to all you non-Munchkins, I say, give it chance! It may surprise you!

Just pay no attention to that expectation behind the cultural paradigm!

-- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com)

(* The third sequel, “Out of Oz,” dealing with Elphaba’s granddaughter, has just been published.)

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