BWW Review: THE WIZARD OF OZ Familiar Fun For The Whole Family
Who doesn't know THE WIZARD OF OZ? And even if by some strange coincidence the multiple books of L. Frank Baum have managed to escape you, the classic MGM film (on which this production is based) has been a television staple and family viewing tradition for decades.
Everyone knows the story of Dorothy Gale (Hannah Roberts) the young girl who, with her dog Toto, escapes the evil Elmira Gulch (Emily Perzan) and winds up being transported via tornado to the magical land of Oz. In order to get home, she has to bring the Wizard (Bill Karnovsky) the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West (also, Emily Perzan). Having grown up in Kansas, these stories have always been dear to me. I'm happy to report that this Zilker summer production is full of charm and heart and is faithful to the iconic film.
When a script is as firmly based on the source material as this one is, and when the source material is as iconic as this source material is, there's a point that comes where a decision has to be made. Does the production mimic the film to the point that it stifles the creativity of the performers, or do you take a different angle all together? This is the situation that director J. RoBert Moore found himself in with the 59th Zilker Summer MusicAl. Moore has managed to walk the tightrope successfully, with some moments of inspired staging and some individual exceptional performances. While this production veers mostly toward homage, there are some different takes in the staging and in some of the performances that are a sheer delight. While the production is good and charming; it is, however, missing that indefinable Zilker spark that keeps it from being great.
The staging, by director Moore, works to keep the show flowing. His staging of the iconic moment where Dorothy is in her home, inside the twister, with animals and people flying by has been very cleverly staged and is a creative highlight of the evening. Tyler Groft and Adam Roberts have done a nice job with the orchestra and get a big sound with great choral work. Adam Roberts and Madison Grumbles have done a solid job with the choreography that really pays off in the large cast numbers. The tech is all quite good, from Natalie George's lighting to Paul Davis' set design. It would have been nice if the yellow brick road had been more clearly defined but that is a minor grumble. For the most part, I found Pam Friday's costumes effective, save one unfortunate choice I will go into later.
The cast is uniformly good, with a few standouts. Bill Karnovsky, as Professor Marvel, was a sheer joy to watch. His unusual pixilated take on the character paid off with big laughs from the audience. Kevin Mosley was funny and engaging as the Emerald City Guard. The munchkins were a delight, lead by Elli Grace Hodges as the Munchkinland Mayor. She was absolutely charismatic, rare in so young a performer.
Emily Perzan was terrific, with a marvelous cackle; however, I had some issues with her makeup and costuming. I don't think it is fitting for Elmira Gulch to be stunningly beautiful; nor do I think the witch should be dressed in a sequined gown, like a contestant on America's Next Top Witch. Both of these things pulled me out of a fine performance time and time again. Andrew Cannata delivered a fine and centered Scarecrow and Kirk Kelso was a great Cowardly Lion, knocking his big number out of the park.
In all, THE WIZARD OF OZ is a fun evening of entertainment suitable for the whole family. An Austin tradition that brings quality theatre to the citizens of Austin for free... and you have to love that.
THE WIZARD OF OZ by L. Frank Baum, with music and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen. Background music by Herbert Stothart. Based upon the classic motion picture owned by Turner Entertainment Co. and distributed in all media by Warner Bros. Adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Running Time: Two Hours and 45 minutes, including intermission
THE WIZARD OF OZ, produced by Zilker Theatre Productions, at Zilker Hillside Theater (2206 William Barton Dr., Austin, TX 78746. Admission is free. Thur - Sun at 8:15 through August 12th.