BWW Review: WIZARD OF OZ at Theatre In The Park
This very week, eighty years ago, preview showings of the film "The Wizard of Oz" opened on silver screens in Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Audiences were wowed. The new "Theatre In The Park" production of Dorothy and Toto's big adventure is every bit as spectacular and fun as the 1939 filmed version. I was blown away by the quality of performances and the imagination displayed by the entire cast and crew of this very difficult community theater project.
The film opens as a teenage Judy Garland establishes a forever standard for "Somewhere, Over The Rainbow." In only eight measures, MaKenna Neef as TIP's Dorothy Gale erases the "forever" standard. She makes the song and the Dorothy character her very own.
There are echoes of the iconic film, but the actors do a fine job of inventing their own personas. Honors should go to Tom Nelson as the Scarecrow, Jacob Jackson as the Tin Man, and David Thompson as the Cowardly Lion. Jennifer Coville-Schweigert as the Bad Witch and Jennifer Weiman as Glinda do a great job. Don Leonard is a very believable Wizard/ Professor Marvel. David Stelting is a good Uncle Henry/Doorman.
Huge credit should accrue to Director Tiffany Schweigert for her imaginative and well-executed production design. The use of complex dance sequences to add interest, cover scene changes and explore complicated distance changes is exceptional.
Schweigert and a somewhat mysterious choreographer identified only as "LB" have created something special that is several steps above the top level of community theatre. LB and Schweigert employ a dancing cast of seeming thousands including a large cadre of very small children. Someone has drilled this cast not only on steps, but on gestures, dance styles, and body positions beyond what could be reasonably expected. They are excellent and add to the overall production value.
The Theatre In The Park facility is a super outdoor stage installation, but it is not your standard proscenium theater with an overhead grid and counterweight system. Regardless, the production crew has found a way to fly the good witch, the bad witch, create an effective danced tornado sequence with an aerialist/ gymnast/dancer (a la Ringling Brothers), flying crows, the flying jitterbugs, flying monkeys even with the extra weight of Dorothy, and even a fly off of the Wizard's hot air balloon at the end of the show.
In addition to all the above, Schweigert has the courage to use multiple flash pots, a very well behaved dog. and a live horse. I kind of did expect the horse's second appearance to have been the "horse of a different color you hear so much about," but the horse behaved and even took a curtain call. So much could have gone wrong with the horse. It did not.
Doug Schroeder's simple, but effective scenic design works extremely well. Lots of stage wagons with full sets on board make dozens of scenes believable. The crew and cast pull, push, and spin all this stuff without being distracting to the action going. Fran Kapono-Kuzila's costumes do a super job bringing the dozens of characters to life including Dorothy, The Wizard, The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, The Lion, the forest, the witch's army, the monkeys, and dozens of others along with lots of very quick changes. In particular, the Munchkin's costumes allow full size folks to appear to be little people in a very inventive solution to a challenging problem. James Levy's twenty-piece orchestra does a more than credible job.
The Wizard of Oz continues this week at Shawnee Mission Park on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The Wizard flies off after August 10. It is a super way to spend a summer evening. Tickets are available at the box office or at www.theatreinthepark.org.
Photos courtesy of Theatre in the Park and Bob Compton.