BWW Review: New staging of THE WIZARD OF OZ pays off at Quintessence Theatre
How do you take a beloved classic and make it relatable to modern audiences? How can you keep a script intact while exploring new character representations and pop culture trends?
These are the questions the creative team at Quintessence Theatre attempted to answer with their new production of The Wizard of Oz.
The show opens on a minimalist set and, other than that -- and the fact that Dorothy traded in her plaits for space buns --, progresses as you'd expect. Dorothy (Leigha Kato) is stuck on her dreary Kansas farm, stuck in a battle with the cranky Ms. Gulch and dreaming of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.' It is only after a cyclone (represented by a lyrical dance) transports her to the trippy land of Oz that Quintessence's inventive direction is totally apparent.
Dorothy is greeted by Glinda (Leah Gabriel), now with costuming and an entrance befit for a pop star and a trio of munchkins who fangirl over their good witch Glinda. When the Wicked Witch (E. Ashley Izard) comes in to wreak havoc, she evokes an evil Lady Gaga. The friends Dorothy makes along her journey have also gotten a makeover. The scarecrow (Andrew Betz) is a clownish goofball, the Tin Man (Doug Hara) is a bit like a quiet former war hero and the Lion (Jered McLenigan) is a cowardly guido.
The real fun begins when the whole crew is together. Kato, Betz, Hara and McLenigan are a perfect group with real-life chemistry that glows on-stage. Their friendship really carries the show and makes the audience want to join their squad of misfits. When they receive a heart, a brain, some courage and their home, they rejoice with fist bumps and celebratory dances.
Every piece of this production was radiating with the cast's awesome energy. The three-person ensemble was hilarious and committed, playing munchkins, Ozians and flying monkeys with the dedication of an SNL cast member doing a weird but hilarious skit. Izard as the witch is not just terrifying as the witch traditionally is, but is instead evil for the hell of it - a choice which makes her scenes unexpectedly funny.
Scenic Designer Brian Sidney Bembridge and Props Master Shannon Kearns are entirely innovative in their portrayal of Oz. They turn a tiny black box theater into the jazzed-up world we all know and love. The yellow brick road is now just a magical yellow brick that Dorothy and friends use like a GPS to get them to the Emerald City. The gates to the Wizard's castle have security cameras on them, and the field of poppies the iconic group falls asleep in is one big red blanket.
The production is mostly lighthearted fun, but with that, some of the politics behind the original Wizard of Oz is lost. Dorothy never wakes up from her dream, so any allegory to those struggling in poverty is non-existent. Because the show still begins with Dorothy's black and white pre-cyclone world, the comedy is not clearly established from the start. The audience must learn to accept the weirdness of Oz and laugh with it. Some character representations are underdeveloped. If the Lion is a guido, why doesn't the Scarecrow have an easily-recognizable archetype? The bubblegum pop Glinda vs. pop rock Wicked Witch dynamic could have played out more smoothly. That being said, the creative team at Quintessence (particularly director Lee Cortopassi) took on a big project that, with a little more time to tinker with, could do for The Wizard of Oz what the recent Broadway revival did for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The Wizard of Oz runs until Dec. 29 and tickets can be purchased HERE.