Brian Bowles, Kate Welsh, Frank Goodloe III and Scott Goodman (on the floor) in
The WIzard of Oz. Photo-CenterStage
The Wizard of Oz
By Frank L. Baum
Music and Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg, Background Music by Herbert Stothart, Book adaption by John Kane.
Directed by John Leffert
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
Is there a story more familiar from the collective memory of childhood than The Wizard of Oz? Not exactly a box-office smash when released to theaters in 1939, annual television broadcasts that were highly anticipated throughout the 1960’s turned the movie into an iconic touchstone in American popular culture. Now it is a staple of every child’s DVD collection. America grew up on Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
To do it onstage is a challenge in that the audience fairly assumes any production will recreate the MGM film with reasonable fidelity. John Leffert’s production does that well enough, but it also affords the lead players opportunity to put their own stamp on the overly familiar characters. Kate Welsh’s Dorothy won’t make you forget Judy, yet it is full of charm and good singing. Brian Bowles delightfully emulates Ray Bolger’s rubbery movement as The Scarecrow, Frank Goodloe III beautifully captures Tin Woodsman’s gentle sensitivity, and Scott Goodman delivers a Cowardly Lion filled with borscht-belt energy that is equal parts Bert Lahr and Nathan Lane.
As good/evil counterpoints, Colette Delaney has poise and authority as the regal Glinda the Good Witch of the North, while Kristy Calman nails the villainous laugh of the Wicked Witch of the West. As the title character, Mike Fryman does a good job of suggesting the avuncular nature of the confidence man that is the wizard.
Opening nights are always fraught with risk, and a few glitches dogged this otherwise excellent production, but when Mike Fryman was confronted with a major prop malfunction in the final scenes that threatened to derail the climax, he milked it for the evening’s biggest laughs with clever ad-libs, and his co-stars followed suit. Whatever the challenges, this ensemble hardly missed a beat, and the show went on with style.
The design work was its customary level of excellence for CenterStage, with the early pre-Oz scenes outfitted in muted earth tones to suggest the sepia-hued photography in the film, and Theresa Bagan’s lighting design unified the visual look throughout. Valerie Canon’s choreography reliably utilized simple steps in repetitive patterns to activate the large groups, and reinforced the very specific physicality of the principles.
Comparisons to the classic film may be missing the point somewhat. L. Frank Baum’s original book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, remains in print 110 years after being published, it was adapted by the author into a popular stage version in 1905, and he wrote 13 sequels – he even imagined an Oz amusement park in California. So Oz survives because of the elemental power of the story of a girl releasing her imagination to escape her daily life. The sold-out opening weekend would seem to confirm that.
Perhaps the final word on the unassailable appeal of The Wizard of Oz should be left to the youngest audience members, including one friend of mine who, when asked, could not find any fault at all with this production.
The Wizard of Oz
January 8 – 25, 2015
Jewish Community Center
3600 Dutchman’s Lane
Louisville, Kentucky 40205
[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.[/box_light]