Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Wizard of Oz
Children's Theatre Company
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of The Wedding Singer, The Cocoanuts, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

Reed Sigmund and Bradley Greenwald
Photo by Dan Norman
I have heard that there are those who dislike the classic 1939 movie version of The Wizard of Oz. Some never got past being frightened by it as a child, while others find the core messages "there's no place like home" and "everything you need is right within you" to be saccharine. It is possible that some folks can only take so much Judy Garland in one sitting. If any of the above describes you, you may want to skip the rest of this review. For the rest of you—and I trust that is the vast majority—do read on. The Children's Theatre Company's lavish production of The Wizard of Oz is a perfect replica of the movie and a perfectly wonderful entertainment for all ages. Just warn the littlest ones about the scary parts in advance.

The story, based on L. Frank Baum's iconic novel, is told with most of the dialogue and plot developments from the movie intact, as adapted by John Kane for a production first performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987. All the beloved songs are there, including "Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead," "If I Only Had a Brain (Heart, Nerve)," "We're Off to See the Wizard," "Merry Old Land of Oz" and of course, "Over the Rainbow." Also on view are such memorable scenes as the ferocious tornado that carries young Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto from her Uncle Henry and Auntie Em's farm in Kansas to the land of Oz, a host of Munchkins to greet Dorothy and sing her praises, Glinda the Good descending in a magic bubble, a field of enchanted poppies, the dazzling green of Emerald City, flying monkeys, and the Wicked Witch of the West melting before our eyes.

Children's Theatre Company has put a great cast together to make the movie spring to life. Traci Allen Shannon as Dorothy Gale captures the mix of purity, empathy, and spunk that Judy Garland invested in the role that vaulted her to stardom, and her vocals are laced with Garland's warmth and yearning. Though a college graduate, Shannon projects the youth and optimistic spirit needed for us to believe in Dorothy's wide-eyed innocence. With her abundant talent, I look forward to seeing Ms. Shannon in many other roles on Twin Cities stages.

As in the movie, the adults who inhabit Dorothy's life in Kansas are double-cast as the colorful characters she encounters in Oz. The trio of companions who accompany Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion, begin and end as farmhands working on Uncle Henry and Auntie Em's farm. Dean Holt brings his charismatic warmth and loose limbs to the part of the Scarecrow, Bradley Greenwald's gorgeous tenor and natural tenderness make a perfect Tin Man, and Reed Sigmund puts his comic chops to work as the Cowardly Lion, especially scoring on "If I Were King of the Forest." It is hard to imagine three better casting choices for these roles.

Mary Fox is Miss Almira Gultch, the epitome of mean as Dorothy's neighbor in Kansas who wants sweet little Toto destroyed, then she easily morphs into the Wicked Witch of the West. She is wonderfully nasty, without being too terrifying for the three year old who was sitting next to me. Gerald Drake doles out homespun wisdom dressed up as magic, both as Professor Marvel and the Wizard, and Janet Hanson projects the loving heart of both Auntie Em and Glinda the Good.

The entire show skips along at a merry pace under Peter C. Brosius's assured direction. Joe Chvala's joyous choreography enlivens the ensemble, a high-octane blend of youthful and adult performers. Tech credit are all terrific. Ingenious set designs provide the array of locations Dorothy and her pals pass through, from the simple elements of the Kansas homestead to the opulence of the Emerald City. Sound design especially enhances the tornado and gives fierce voice to the Wizard. The costume shop at Children's Theater Company doubtless worked overtime to produce Helen Q. Huang's elaborate and witty costumes.

Also, the pooch that played Toto at the performance I attended—the program lists canine thespians Dusty and Nessa alternating in the part—could not have been more precious, and responded perfectly to every cue.

There is nothing surprising about this production of The Wizard of Oz, since everything on stage has been seen in the movie. And yet, the magic of seeing it all performed live, with a cast of performers that make it seem effortless, and a design team that puts the fantasy of movie special effects right before our eyes, is indeed special. This wondrous journey from Kansas to Oz and home again is very worth taking and, although its homespun message bears telling any time of year, it is especially well suited as a holiday entertainment.

The Wizard of Oz continues at the Children's Theatre Company through January 10, 2016. 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN, 55404. Tickets are $10.00 - $81.00. Rush Tickets for unsold seats available two hours before each performance: $15.00. Discounts available for groups of 10 or more. For tickets call 612- 874-0400 or go to Recommended for all ages.

By: L. Frank Baum; Adapted for the Stage by: John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company; Based on the Classic Motion Picture owned by Turner Entertainment and distributed by Warner Brothers; Music and Lyrics: Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg; Background Music: Herbert Stothart; Dance and Vocal Arrangements: Peter Howard; Orchestrations: Larry Wilcox; Director: Peter C. Brosius; Choreography: Joe Chvala; Music Direction: Andrew Cooke; Scenic Design: Scott Bradley; Costume Design: Helen Q. Huang; Lighting Design: Paul Hackenmueller; Sound Design: Sean Healey; Original Sound Design: Chris Heagle; Animal Trainer: William Berloni; Animal Handler: Schuyler Beeman; Assistant Directors: Brandon Brooks, Jessica Rose McVay, Eric Norton; Stage Managers: Jenny R. Friend, Kathryn Sam Houkom; Assistant Stage Manager: Amy Abrigo; Assistant Lighting Designer: Kathy Maxwell; Stage Management Intern: Chandler Jordon Hull; Flying Effects: ZFX. Inc.

Cast: Gerald Drake (Professor Marvel, The Wizard, Gatekeeper), Mary Fox (Miss Almira Gultch, Wicked Witch of the West), Bradley Greenwald (Hickory, Tin Man), Janet Hanson (Aunt Em, Glinda), Dean Holt (Hunk, Scarecrow), Dan Hopman (Uncle Henry, Ensemble), Traci Allen Shannon (Dorothy Gale), Reed Sigmund (Zeke, Cowardly Lion), Dusty and Nessa (Toto)

Ensemble: Meredith "Mimi" Kol-Balfour, China Brickey, Hunter Conrad, Olivia Coon, Lucas Ellingson, Mario Esteb, Lizzy Greenway, Josh Haglund, Christine Hwang, Ryder James, John Jamison, Maggie Kjeer, Sanjana Krishnamurthy, William Nida, Derek Prestly, Wes Quist, Noah W. Ratgen, Frances Ronning, Alejandro Vega, Abigail Walker, Lily Wangerin, Ella Williams.

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