Imagine an audience equally comprising young children and adults—all held captive for close to two hours, with the only sound being a young voice commenting excitedly on the action on stage. This is what I experienced when I attended The Wizard of Oz, currently playing at the Children’s Theatre Company (CTC) in Minneapolis.
I went with two of my grandchildren—eight and six years old—and was a little concerned about whether they would stay engaged for the entire length of the show. They had not seen the 1939 movie, mainly because both their mother (my daughter) and I remember the frightening scenes with the wicked witch and those nasty flying monkeys. When we arrived home from the theater, we immediately ordered the movie online and watched it while eating our pizza dinner. The kids were delighted to see that the play, which they both called “awesome” and wanted to see again, was right there on their TV.
I have never attended a play that so closely followed a movie. From the characters to the narrative to the songs to the costuming, it was as if the movie had come to life. Working from John Kane’s adaptation, CTC has done a wonderful job of recreating a very special, beloved movie. (If you’re looking for an adaptation that hews to L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel rather than the well-known film, this is not the Wizard for you.)
The Wizard of Oz is the timeless story of Dorothy Gale, a young girl who is transported to the magical Land of Oz. There she meets friends and faces threats while searching for a way to go back home. Many of us Baby Boomers—and our Gen X kids—will remember it being a family event to sit down together to watch the movie, which was shown on television once a year from 1959-1991.
Scenic designer Scott Bradley does a wonderful job creating the locations of the story—Kansas, Munchkinland, the Yellow Brick Road, the witch’s castle, the Land of Oz, and the throne of the Wizard himself. There seemed to be endless room backstage to accommodate the different sets that moved in and out. I am sure the children in the audience never questioned these transitions, for each was so distinct and believable. The creative team brings the tornado right on stage to lift Dorothy and her house from Kansas to Oz.
Costume designer Helen Huang recreates costumes from the movie down to the smallest details so flawlessly that it seems as if the movie has come to life. From the moment the orchestra starts playing you will recognize the music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg—again, right from the movie. I appreciate the fact that this production recognized the classic movie they were adapting and did not try to improve on what many would call perfection.
Bradley Greenwald as the Tin Man, Dean Holt as the Scarecrow, and Reed Sigmund as the Cowardly Lion are excellent in their portrayals of their characters. These CTC vets have the acting chops to be as gangly as a scarecrow, as stiff as a tin man, and as cuddly as a cowardly lion while also clearly portraying the strengths they already possessed without even realizing it. Gerald Drake, as both the Wizard and the Gatekeeper, is able to switch among comedy, intimidation, and finally simplicity as his true story is revealed.
Holding all of this together is Traci Allen Shannon as Dorothy. She portrays a young girl who is afraid, but has the strength and conviction to stand up for what is right and help her friends; and I would be remiss in not mentioning the talent of Schuyler Beeman as the animal handler who gives us a real Toto who did not miss a cue during the show.
All of this is pulled together by Director Peter Brosius, who had the vision to bring this well-loved movie to life perfectly—and perfection is what the Children’s Theatre has attained with this production. It is a wonderful introduction to a classic tale for a new audience and a reminder to everyone of the value of exploring our potential and remembering what is really important in life.