Lincoln Fogarty, Louise Hopson, Rebecca Worthington, & Hannah Lechleiter in The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz. Photo: Chicken Coop
The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz
Adapted by Phillip Klapperich and Jason Cooper
Based on “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum
Directed by Jason Cooper
A review by Tory Parker
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Tory Parker. All rights reserved.
The land of Oz has captured the American imagination for over a century, with film and television adaptations, spin off books, and even full Broadway musicals (soon to be a 2-part film). It’s a luscious sort of playground, and it’s no wonder director Jason Cooper was so enthralled by the idea of getting his hands on this darker, grittier adaptation after seeing it years ago in Chicago.
Oz has always been a fun place to explore theatrics, dreams, and the mystique. The entire idea of the Wizard actually just being some GUY with curtains and a fog machine opens up the idea that things in Oz are not always as shiny and sweet as they may seem. This adaption explores that, not so much in the narrative–which is largely unchanged save for outlier moments–but in its theatricality, styling, and determination to lean into the macabre rather than glossing over unsavory moments.
Our modern Dorothy (Louise Hopson) has just been rejected from a prestigious school due to her lack of a specific passion when she goes back to her aunt and uncle’s home in the midst of a terrible storm and awakens to find a pack of orange-haired spritely people in her house, only to discover that she has been magically transported to the land of Oz. The munchkins rejoice in her slaying of the Wicked Witch of the East, calling Dorothy “Witch Slayer,” which is a title she wears throughout the rest of the play. We also meet Glinda the Good Witch (Rebecca Worthington) and the disgruntled, leather-clad, Wicked Witch of the West (Hannah Lechleiter), who is determined to get back her sister’s boots–once white, now red with blood.
Dorothy is determined to get home, and is prompted to follow the Road of Yellow Brick by the Mayor of Munchkinland (Ben Gierhart)–this is important, because we’ll see this man again. On her way to the Emerald City, she and her dog Toto (Lincoln Fogarty) pick up a brainless Scarecrow (Joseph Glaser), a long-rusted, heartless Tin Woodsman (Jake Minton), and a big scaredy cat lion (Ke’Leb Beauchamp).
If all this sounds familiar, it’s because the 1939 movie follows a very similar trajectory. What I didn’t mention is that the munchkins wear plague masks and speak in #hashtags, the Tin Woodsman plays a song on the guitar about how his limbs were all cut off to introduce himself, and Dorothy says “fuck.” Kind of a lot, actually.
The script of the show is nothing to write home to Kansas about; it feels way overdone at times and under-done at others. I’m confident there are strong adaptations that would lend themselves better to this gruesome aesthetic. But the show works best when it leans as far in as it possibly can in one direction all together. The costumes are fantastic, imaginative, evocative, and intentional–as are hair and makeup. The chemistry between the Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man is delightful, and they feel like real friends we’ve made along this journey. The flying monkey king (Joshua Larrison) and the Wicked Witch are both genuinely scary at times. And there was even an unexpectedly gruesome moment of cruelty that genuinely seemed to shake the audience and take them by surprise.
But there is a LOT going on in this show, with lights and projections, songs and sounds and props and puppets and a huge cast, and it’s all crammed into a very small and crowded theatre. There were moments where it felt the people on stage were unsure of what was happening or about to happen, which led to some meandering rather than journeying. And for all director Cooper’s love of the new ending to this classic story, I’m not sure that ending resonated strongly with others in the audience.
Ultimately, I LOVE that shows like this are coming to life in Louisville–and what a joy to see it with a FULL house! This is one you really do need to experience to understand. It is a fun way to explore a world you’re confident you must know pretty well by now. But just like with the Wizard, it’s those peaks behind the curtain that blow the whole thing wide open.
Featuring K. Louise Hopson, Lincoln Fogarty, Joseph Glaser, Jake Minton, Ke’leb Beauchamp, Ben Gierhart, Hannah Lechleiter, Rebecca Worthington, Clinton Nowicke, Mimi Housewright, Jessamy Thomison, Joshua Larrison
The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz
January 19 – 29, 2023
The Chicken Coop Theatre Company
Absolute Studio Theatre at Mellwood Arts Center
1860 Mellwood Avenue, Louisville KY 40206
Tory Parker, originally from West Virginia, is now a proud Kentuckian as well. In Louisville, she’s worked and/or performed with Claddagh Theatre Company, the Chamber Theatre, Bellarmine University, Wayward Actors Company, Derby City Playwrights, Company Outcast and director Emily Grimany. She is a co-founding artist of three witches shakespeare. As a playwright, her original works appeared in the National Women’s Theatre Festival in their 2020 and 2021 Fringe Festivals.