BWW Review: THE WIZARD OF OZ at Providence Hospital Amphitheater

BWW Review: THE WIZARD OF OZ at Providence Hospital Amphitheater

"The Wizard Of Oz" as produced by Kansas City's "Theater League" in the cavernous outdoor concert venue now called Providence Hospital Amphitheater has finally landed "at home" in the physical space of Kansas.

This new iteration of the 1900 novel by L. Frank Baum, while well directed and more than reasonably acted, faces headwinds as intense as the Kansas tornado that landed Dorothy and her friends in Oz. Some properties are so iconic in their original popular forms that attempts to recreate them pale in the attempt. "The Wizard of Oz" is one of those properties. The film is an icon.

The typical Broadway theater seats about a thousand people. Mid-westerners are used to seeing touring companies in much larger auditoriums with up to 3000 seats. "Theatre in the Park" seats up to 4000. "Starlight Theatre" has about 8000 stadium-like chairs. At Providence, there are spaces for about 18,000 audience members. The challenges facing a good director like Andrew Grayman-Parkhurst and an award winning choreographer like Michael Grayman-Parkhurst are enormous.

Rather than build tons of sets for the massive concert stage, the producers here have chosen another route. They have licensed production stills from the 1939 motion picture and hung a humongous TV screen where the back wall scenery would ordinarily go. The movie art becomes most of the scenery. The orchestra (I suspect) is a recording (sans voices) of the original studio orchestra from the late 1930s.

Dorothy Gale (Chelcie Abercrombie) is a typical depression era Kansas teenager dealing with all those things people at that stage of life deal with. She is injured in a terrible windstorm and awakens to find herself a new resident of the magical, technicolor, land of Oz. She melds sepia-toned Kansas of the dust bowl and the people she knows in her real life with fantastical vivid constructions in her imaginary world.

Dorothy's house has been picked up by a tornado and deposited squarely on top of a wicked witch in a land of little people called Munchkins. For this production, the Munchkins come to life in the persons of children (including several with special needs). It is endearing and it works especially well for young participants getting their first taste of performing.

The witches' evil sister (Devon Barnes) flies into Munchkin-land and threatens Dorothy. She is understandably freaked out and sets off to find a way home to Kansas as the hopeful beneficiary of the largess spread around by the rumored Wizard (Dick Wilson) of this strange land. Along the way, she picks up three traveling companions. They are a Scarecrow (Jordan Fox), a Tinman (Brian McKinley), and a cowardly Lion (Robert Hingula). This quartet gamely attains the Wizard's home base in Emerald City just as Act I ends.

Act II opens with our four friends making their case to a Wizard who is not quite who he seems. The Wizard agrees to grant all wishes if Dorothy will rid Oz of the pesky wicked witch from Act I. Evidently, this lady makes trouble no matter for who crosses her broom-path.

All the actors perform their roles in a workmanlike, professional manner, but the flickering shadows of Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Frank Morgan, and Margaret Hamilton, plus the unfriendly environment of a massive Providence concert stage are too much to overcome. All the great Arlen-Yarburg songs remain and are well performed in their original keys.

This is a story that became so close to its audience's hearts that a musical version was first toured by L. Frank Baum himself in 1902, a new version based on the film in 1945, and later an ice show by the folks who owned the Barnum and Bailey Circus. The last version was mounted in 2011 by no less adaptors than Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It opened and closed in London in about a year.

All this proves that sometimes the iconic version of a show on film will stand while credible versions fail to surpass the version of "home" we know and love so well. Adaptors will continue to try.

"The Wizard of Oz" continues at the Providence Hospital Amphitheater through Saturday, August 3. Tickets are available online and at the box office. Curtain is at 8:00 p.m. Allow extra travel time because of construction on I-435.

Photo provided by the Theater League of Kansas City.

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From This Author Alan Portner

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