Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Review of The Wizard of Oz at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Wizard of Oz. It was by L. Frank Baum, adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Music and lyrics were by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. It was directed by Brian Hill, with music direction by Kory Danielson and choreography by Kenny Ingram. It was about a young girl named Dorothy (Leryn Turlington) who lived in Kansas with her aunt and Uncle (Emily Rohm and Jared D. M. Grant) but wanted to do more with her life than just stay in the real town that she grew up in. Focused on the struggle of keeping her dog safe from her evil neighbor (Hollis Resnik) who wants to take him away, she missed her chance to get into the cellar, and is transported by tornado to Oz, a colorful world that needs her help. So with the help of some friends she meets on the way--the Scarecrow (Marya Grandy), the Tin Man (Joseph Anthony Byrd), and the Cowardly Lion (Jose Antonio Garcia)--she goes on a mission to defeat the evil witch who has been oppressing the citizens of Oz. In the end, she realizes that her home meant more to her than she may have once thought. It is about family, love, and bravery. This is a classic story that I think a lot of families will enjoy.

My favorite numbers were the ones with the highest dance intensity, which were "Jitterbug," which is a song cut from the original movie, and "Merry Old Land of Oz." I feel like the ensemble of this show was very strong. They brought energy to those songs and seemed fueled by each other. These were the moments you could see they were all totally committed and you could see them all having fun. I liked how the choreographer kept the feel of the original movie's choreography but also made it unique. I really loved the Emerald City Guard (Grant) and I thought his part was humorous, but not at all forced, which can be hard with a role that's been done so many times.

Even though there were some memorable production numbers, this production felt pared down to me. I feel like most productions of The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz have made me feel like I was being transported to this new, glorious, technicolor place. But the spectacle in this production didn't achieve the shift in tone I was expecting. The tornado effect in this show had the actors attach a dollhouse in Dorothy's room to a harness which then twirled around the stage. It felt very detached from the magic that is usually so present. The tornado is usually the bridge between ordinary Kansas and the limitlessness of Oz, and so in my opinion it has to be spectacular to watch. Here it was interesting; it just wasn't exciting. Also Glinda (Rohm) seemed to just walk in without much fanfare. It made her seem less powerful to not have much grandeur accompanying her entrance. She could have been just in Kansas in a fancy dress, especially since the dress is still from that time period. The dress was beautiful, but since the entrance is the cue that we are in a magical place, it seems very underwhelming if the first thing we see is grounded in reality and treads on the ground.

I thought the costumes were beautiful. I especially loved the tree costumes. They were so memorable and sleek. It added to the dynamic of them being the backup singers for the Tin Man because they were reminiscent of the elegant gowns worn by Motown girl groups like in Dreamgirls. I liked how the Lion's costume looked like a toy in someone's room. It looked homemade, like someone's grandma made it. I liked how the costumes for the Jitterbugs looked both like bugs and like the dance move embodied--very free and young.

People who would like this show are people who like family-friendly classics, strong ensembles, and homemade lions. I think this is good show for young children to introduce them to theater and this story because it is not very scary or intense. The little girl I took with me to see the show enjoyed it--especially the real live dog, Derby, who played Toto.

Photos: Liz Lauren

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