BWW Reviews: Adventure Theatre MTC Transports Audiences to a Magical WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
If all you know of L. Frank Baum's delightful "Oz" stories is the 1939 film classic THE WIZARD OF OZ, now is the time to discover there is more to the story of young Dorothy of Kansas and her accidental journey to the land of Munchkins, enchanted animals, talking scarecrows, men made of tin and multiple witches.
In fact, grab some children - or kids at heart - and make your way to Adventure Theatre MTC for their new version of Baum's popular tale, here called THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. In a whirlwind of a production, aimed at young audiences, this WIZARD weaves a spell that cannot be broken by the wickedest of witches.
Local playwright Jacqueline E. Lawton has taken the main story (i.e. the most familiar of his many Oz stories) and condensed the adventure to Oz and the Emerald City without losing one bit of the whimsy or message. The production, directed with a clever eye for crowd-pleasing, theatrical magic by Roberta Gasbarre, is quick, engaging and fun for audiences of any age. It is a yet another reason Adventure Theatre MTC is one of the best venues to introduce youngsters to the wonders of live theatre.
Grown-ups - and well-read children - will not be disappointed or feel shortchanged by the hour-long adaptation. We still meet Dorothy Gale, the Kansas farm-girl who is bored with farm chores and longs for adventures with her cute little dog Toto. Paige Hernandez brings all the wide-eyed innocence and pluck to Dorothy anyone would want. Toto, as it happens, is brought to life by Hernandez and others through the magic of puppetry which seems as real as any dog-actor would be.
Puppets are used when Dorothy lands in Oz and is discovered by the Munchkins after her house lands on the evil Wicked Witch of the East. Much to Dorothy's surprise she is hailed as a hero but she really just wants to find her way home, naturally. Locasta - the good witch of the North - points her to the yellow brick road and to Emerald City where the title character may be able to help her. Locasta also bestows upon Dorothy a magical kiss on the forehead to protect her from surviving Wicked Witch.
The evil Witch is still in search of her sister's special shoes, now silver instead of the Technicolor-friendly ruby ones Judy Garland sported back in '39. This Wicked Witch also has a special sidekick, Wild Cat, a man-sized feline bent on doing his mistress's bidding.
Luckily for Dorothy, the rest of the story unfolds as we would expect. She meets the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Cowardly Lion along the Yellow Brick Road and narrowly escapes danger several times. Winged Monkey's play a part too, but I will stop short of telling too much, so as not to spoil the elements of surprise Lawton has included in her engaging adaptation of the story.
Throughout the production, Hernandez as Dorothy is ably supported by a strong ensemble who easily slips into the various roles with verve. Maggie Erwin handles Aunt Em, Locasta and even the guardian of the Emerald City gates. She is joined by the versatile Alex Vernon as Uncle Henry, Wild Cat, the head winged monkey and the Wizard himself. Sarah Olmstead Thomas has a field day putting her own spin on the Wicked Witch (who totes an umbrella instead of a broom here), and pulls double duty as Glinda, Good Witch of the South.
As Dorothy's enchanting companions, Ryan Dalusung is the Scarecrow, Henian Boone is the Tinman, and Thony Mena is the Lion. Each one still seeks brains, a heart and courage, and Lawton has given them each a new character twist that works to add depth to their journey through Oz.
Tyler Gunther's costumes evoke everything from plain Kansas farmers to the fantastic creations for Oz. Lydia Francis provides a flexible and simple scenic design which includes hidden sections, curtain pulls and nooks and crannies which help move the production along at a breakneck pace that keeps even the smallest audiences rapt with attention. Projections by Sarah Tundermann and the kaleidoscopic lighting design by Max M. Dolittle enhance the journey with artistic skill. Gasbarre and company also uses an array of props that are deceptively simple but help tell the story in a succinct and theatrical manner which is refreshing.
The story is served by the production and Dorothy still finds that there is no place like her home, but what a journey she shares with the audience! We don't give ratings at Broadway World, but if I were you I would click my heels three times and wish yourself to Glen Echo Park so you won't miss a wonderful WIZARD OF OZ.
THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ runs April 3 to May 25, 2015 at Adventure Theatre MTC, 7300 MacArthur Blvd, Glen Echo, MD 20812 in Glen Echo Park - near the Clara Barton National Site. For information or tickets, go to Adventure Theatre MTC HERE or call 301.634.2270.
Sarah Olmsted Thomas as Wicked Witch of the West, Paige Hernandez as Dorothy
PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Horan/Adventure Theatre MTC