Review: THE WIZARD OF OZ at A.C.T. Geary Theatre

What did our critic think of THE WIZARD OF OZ at A.C.T. Geary Theatre?

By: Jun. 08, 2023
Review: THE WIZARD OF OZ at A.C.T. Geary Theatre

A.C.T.’s presentation of the RSC adaptation of the beloved Wizard of Oz becomes an ‘only in San Francisco’ event replete with transgender casting, double entendre readings of selected dialogue, eye-popping color, ingenious costuming and extremely creative set design and props.  Opening night incorporated the SF  Lesbian/Gay Freedom  Band and local legend Sister Roma adding specific local refences to the evening. While both the film and this staging center on the emotional themes of friendship, loyalty, and family, here the camp humor is off the charts.

Review: THE WIZARD OF OZ at A.C.T. Geary Theatre
El Beh (Guard), Chanel Tilghman (Dorothy), Cathleen Riddley (Cowardly Lion), Danny Scheie (Scarecrow), and Darryl V. Jones (Tin Man)

The audience is primed beforehand to participate and did they ever- waving yellow bricks (napkins), singing along, and booing the villains en masse.  Actors appear all over the theatre, play multiple roles, and are gender fluid. The casting is well representative of the Bay Area with newcomer Chanel Tilghman as Dorothy, and award-winning Courtney Walsh as the Wicked Witch of the West. Professor Marvel/ The Wizard is a female and Toto is a cute mauve puppet.

Review: THE WIZARD OF OZ at A.C.T. Geary Theatre
Danny Scheie (Scarecrow)

The first act is a hoot with many creative, laugh out loud moments; from the tornado (two giant fans, confetti and a flexible Twister game sheet), to the introductions of the Scarecrow (costumed as a 60’s Raggedy Ann doll), Lion (Cathleen Riddley in fur chaps) and Tinman (Darryl V. Jones looking like a silver Village People member), to the wild representation of Munchkinland and the Munchkins themselves (pairs of plastic eyes on inanimate objects). The set design is PeeWee Herman’s playhouse on acid, the costuming bold as a drag queen’s wildest dreams.

Review: THE WIZARD OF OZ at A.C.T. Geary Theatre
(Top) Katrina Lauren McGraw (Glinda), (Bottom) Chanel Tilghman (Dorothy), and (Background) Beth Wilmurt

Act one has the most memorable numbers and is far stronger than the second which loses some comic steam. The principal performances are all strong with plenty of opportunities for scene-chewing performances. Danny Scheie’s Scarecrow gets the bulk of the snappy, sarcastic one-liners as well as the belly laughs. He barks out his lines with an accent of unknown origin in a measured meter to savor the line.  Courtney Walsh, recently seen working her comic skills in Clue, is, well, wicked.  Katrina Lauren McGraw’s Glinda shows disdain for ‘ugly witches’ and is a natural comic. El Beh and Ada Westfall shine as the Oz Guard and Professor Marvel respectively.

Review: THE WIZARD OF OZ at A.C.T. Geary Theatre
Chanel Tilghman (Dorothy) and Ada Westfall (Professor Marvel)

There’s additional background music added, and they did not need to re-introduce the Jitterbug number cut from the 1939 film. The second act plays out the drama and resolution but could not match the intensity and creativity of the first. Still, Wizard of Oz is so appropriate, this being Gay Pride Month in San Francisco. Taking a tongue in cheek twist on a beloved classic that wowed audiences with fantasy and color is certain to be a hit.

The Wizard of Oz continues through June 25th. Tickets are available now at the A.C.T. Box Office at (415) 749-2228 or online at act-sf.org.

Photo Credit: Kevin Berne




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From This Author - Steve Murray

Steve Murray is a writer for Cabaret Scenes magazine, contributor to ForAllEvents and now BroadwayWorld. He started writing rock reviews for his college newspaper in the 1970’s, produced a varie... Steve Murray">(read more about this author)

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