BWW Reviews: THE WIZARD OF ODDS in Bridgeport - A Tale Worth Retelling

It's spring break in some school districts in Connecticut. What should you do with the younger kids? After schlepping them all week to the park, the library, the museum, the zoo, and the aquarium, it's time for the whole family to enjoy the theatre. What better show during a school break than a musical that has loveable characters and a message to stay with them all their lives?

It's the Wizard of Odds, an updated take on the L. Frank Baum classic. Written by Thom Racina, the play takes place in Connecticut. It opens in the morning when Dorothy Gale (Jaime Lauren Morano) doesn't want to go to school because of the bullies. Dorothy defends the victims in class - Steve (Jim Nassef) and Lenore (Alana Cauthen), and Mrs. Glidden (Jorie Janeway) rescues Steve, who was locked in his locker by Tyler (Andrew Hendrick), egged on by Sheila (Emma LaPlace). The Elivra Gulch (Lance Anthony), the assistant principal from hell, arrives and further tears down the fragile egos of the classmates.

There is early dismissal because of an imminent tornado, with Hendrick turning into Chubby Checker and sings "The Twist." The story returns to the version we all know. The Good Witch (Janeway) gives her the magical ruby shoes ("These are what you want," Glinda tells Dorothy. "They're Jimmy Choos." She tells her, "Use your talent, your nerve, your uniqueness and your creativity" to find the Wizard of Odds and not stray from the yellow brick highway. Dorothy meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lioness (also played by Nassef, Graham and Cauthen) with their issues. The Lioness also wants to be thin. (This is the world we live in today. It's plausible.) "I'm all fluff with no stuff to back it up," so she belts out "Courage," as inspired by Aretha Franklin's "Respect."

Throughout the show, the four characters are intimidated by the Wicked Witch of the West (played brilliantly by Anthony). They finally get to the Emerald City and meet the Wizard (Ricky Altamirano). He demands the death of the WWW and her broom. Her demise? It will be with a water bottle. (Again, this reflects the time we live in. Water is healthy and you can't always count on rain.) OK, so the Wizard is a fraud, but the ironies remain: the scarecrow with no brain is smart, the tin man who has no heart is sympathetic, and the cowardly lioness is anything but timid. And Dorothy always had the power to come home by tapping her heels and reciting, "There's no place like home."

So why see this Wizard of Odds in addition to The Wizard of Oz or The Wiz? Because it's a tale worth retelling, and the additional theme of encouraging people to stand up to bullies is worth repeating. By coincidence, the Wizard of Odds opened the same week as the film, 42, which was about Jackie Robinson's courage in breaking the race barrier in major league baseball. Altamirano's direction and choreography are terrific, as is Stan Wietrzychowski's musical direction. Kudos also to Lesley Neilson-Bowman's costumes. Among the perfectly cast performers, Rene Ragan has an exquisite voice. The main reason to see the show? Because of the talent, nerve, uniqueness and creativity of the team of the Cabaret Children's Theatre. They are at their best when they reinvent classic children's theatre.

The Wizard of Odds plays weekends through May 19. Call 203-576-1636 for information. Bridgeport Downtown Cabaret Kids Stage. 263 Golden Hill Road, Bridgeport.

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From This Author Sherry Shameer Cohen

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